With odds offered earlier in the season at 66/1 for Everton to finish in the top four, I took a punt and slapped a single nugget on it, as with all outside bets it was a long-shot, and stranger things have happened in football after-all.
Hopes for the elusive top four finish is over, after the Merseyside derby ended in a points-share and results elsewhere. But, with the best squad in years with the likes of Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic helping to equal the best start to a campaign since the 2004-05 season, when the club finished fourth, perhaps this was the closest attempt to breaking the Manchester-London top four we’ll see for years.
For the record
The last time a club outside the capital or Manchester recorded a top four spot was in 2009, when the red half of Liverpool claimed second place. As it happened, it was also Everton’s last decent shot at breaking into the top four. The Merseysiders finished fifth and a gaping nine points off fourth placed Arsenal.
You’ll have to step back over a decade to the 2001-02 season for the last time the top four was only half occupied by the Manchester-London stronghold, when Liverpool and Newcastle United finished second and fourth respectively.
Since 1992, and the formation of the Premier League, there have been just three seasons where a majority of the top four was represented by teams other than those from Manchester and London. Aston Villa, Norwich and Blackburn Rovers claimed second-fourth positions in the opening season of the Premier League, and the 1994-95 campaign and the following season offer a rare alternative face to the top of the table.
Of the three seasons when the Manchester-London top four stronghold was broken by a majority swing, fortunes have been mixed for the clubs since. Liverpool remain the only side still within sniffing distance of the top, and sides like Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers ply their trade in the Championship whilst Aston Villa, Norwich and Newcastle are more familiar with the other end of the Premier League table.
The arrival of Arsene Wenger in 1996 put the wheels in motion for the ‘French Revolution’ as the manager began to build the club’s squad to convincingly compete with Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
The shrewd Frenchman has a knack for spotting talent and has bought the likes of Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Kolo Toure to the club for bargain prices and has turned huge profits when sold on in order to build buying power in the transfer market. This has enabled Wenger to become established and mount decent attacks on the Premier League title over the years, with the peak for the Gunners in the 2003-04 season of ‘The Invincibles’.
Tottenham Hotspur have been blessed over the years with talented strikers, namely Teddy Sheringham, Robbie Keane and Steffen Iversen to keep the North Londoners in contention.
In the last few seasons, the club has grown and become regular challengers for the top four, thanks to Premier League powerhouses Jermain Defoe, Emanual Adebayor and Gareth Bale; proving you can still make waves without splashing the cash.
One man band
Last year, Alex Ferguson was reported to be writing a book, but it has been cancelled because he doesn’t have a title.
Fergie time and ref’s best friend – laugh and joke all you like about Alex Ferguson, but the Scot is simply a genius and a legend. Since arriving at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson has steered the club towards more silverware than Fernando Torres has scored goals for Chelsea (not hard).
Roman Abramovich is reported to have spent over £2billion on the London club
The rise of the sugar daddies
Before 2003, and Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea, the club were very much on the fringes, as the Premier League was dominated by Arsenal and Manchester United.
The Russian tycoon has spent a reported £2billion on the football club, bringing in more than 70 players over the decade since buying Chelsea. The investment has resulted in four FA Cups, three Premier League titles, two League Cups and being crowned the Champions of Europe.
It has since paved the way for more sugar daddies in football, most notably Manchester City’s owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, who has also ‘bought’ success for the Eastlands club.
So, how to break the mould and who?
All hopes realistically ride on Liverpool and Everton, and in David Moyes the Toffees have a brilliant manager and an increasingly strong squad if they can hold onto their players. Liverpool have a great talent in Suarez who could singlehandedly fire the Reds into fourth position, if only he could apply himself with more discipline and focus.
Love it or loathe it, foreign investors have become a big part of the beautiful game and have proven that clubs can be lifted into success.
Money is a big player in top four football, but a strong leader who’s shrewd and has a good eye for talent will count for more than flashing the cash as Queen’s Park Rangers and Tony Fernandes will tell you…