A Tale of Two Cities - and Why We Can't Compete. with Manchester United Winning the Premier League with Games to Spare and Aston Villa Suffering the Worst Season in Decades, the Difference between the Two Conurbations' Footballing Achievements Has Never Been More Stark. Professor John Samuels, of the University of Birmingham and Author of the Beautiful Game Is over Investigates Why

The Birmingham Post (England), May 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

A Tale of Two Cities - and Why We Can't Compete. with Manchester United Winning the Premier League with Games to Spare and Aston Villa Suffering the Worst Season in Decades, the Difference between the Two Conurbations' Footballing Achievements Has Never Been More Stark. Professor John Samuels, of the University of Birmingham and Author of the Beautiful Game Is over Investigates Why


Byline: John Samuels

So now we know Manchester United will finish this season as Premier League champions, and Manchester City will be runners up. The positions were reversed in the previous season.

Where are the clubs from Birmingham, the city which likes to think of itself as Britain's second city? Aston Villa have finished this season fighting for their Premier League survival, as they did the previous term. Birmingham City were once again a mid table club in the second tier of football - only West Bromwich Albion, the club with a small part of its grounds in Birmingham, were a team the region could be proud of.

The relative status of football in the two cities has not always been like this. Not that long ago, in 1980/81, Aston Villa were champions of the old first division. In that year there were five West Midland clubs in the top tier. In 1982 Aston Villa won the European Cup, and in the first year of the Premier League they finished second.

Why have things changed so dramatically? Will the position in the future be any better for the Birmingham clubs? Unfortunately the answer to the second question is no. The present competitive imbalance in the game will get worse.

Success in the football business now depends on access to money because winning on the pitch in the long run depends on attracting the best players.

The best players, with the help of their agents, receive the highest wages and all the evidence shows that a club's position in the Premier league at the end of a season is very closely correlated with the size of the club's wage bill.

Given a club's expenditure on wages it is possible to predict with reasonable accuracy that club's final league position.

In the three years (starting in 2007/08) when Aston Villa finished sixth in the Premier League, their wage bill was the seventh highest in the league.

In 2010/11 they still had the seventh highest wage bill, and finished in ninth place. But other clubs were overtaking them in terms of the size of the annual revenue they could generate.

Villa could not afford to continue to pay the 2010/11 wage levels - 90 per cent of their annual revenue was spent on salaries.

They decided that in order to survive they needed to downsize, to reduce their wage bill, and as would be predicted they slid down the league table. Can their stated plan of developing a youthful and progressive squad bring them success? The fans would hope so, but the evidence is not encouraging.

The plan might have worked in the past when there was a maximum wage and perhaps players were more loyal before the Bosman ruling. Now clubs find it hard to keep their good young players.

They can be lured away by the high wages being offered by the handful of elite clubs who need to build up their squads in order to be able to compete in lucrative competitions.

The new UEFA Financial Fair Play rules and the proposed Premier League Financial rules will not help restore competitive balance. In fact they could well make the inequality worse.

The rules favour the existing elite clubs, they will entrench the top clubs dominance. The half baked Premier League regulations will hit smaller clubs proportionately more than the large clubs.

They will not help the Birmingham clubs to break into the elite group.

The reason the Midland clubs cannot afford to pay higher wages is because they cannot generate a high enough annual revenue and they cannot attract a needed "benefactor."

In 2010/11 Manchester United's annual revenue was PS331 million, Aston Villa's was PS92 million, and that of West Bromwich Albion PS59 million and Birmingham City PS56 million. This is a very big difference, and this can only become even greater.

In 2011/12 Manchester United generated PS117 million from commercial and merchandising; more than that year's annual revenue of Aston Villa from all sources, including match day receipts and TV income.

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A Tale of Two Cities - and Why We Can't Compete. with Manchester United Winning the Premier League with Games to Spare and Aston Villa Suffering the Worst Season in Decades, the Difference between the Two Conurbations' Footballing Achievements Has Never Been More Stark. Professor John Samuels, of the University of Birmingham and Author of the Beautiful Game Is over Investigates Why
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