What makes a big Premier League club?


Jamie Carragher stirred up a storm of controversy earlier this week when the Mirror quoted him as criticizing Liverpool for thinking they are a “big club” when in reality the “real big clubs” aren’t worried about them at all. While I find this notion foolish because of course clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea are paying attention to the actions of other Premier League teams it does bring up a very good question. Just what makes you a big Premier League club?

In a perfect world we would answer this question with a variety of important factors. We’d wax on about the necessity of a long tradition of success, a unique identity and organic fan support. Ironically, if these were the important requirements for being a big club then Liverpool would qualify for Champions League regularly. In today’s world of football these things are just window dressing though. The only real thing that differentiates big clubs from the rest of the world are the resources available to them.

For the most part resources is just a polite way of saying money. If you have the cash to splash on high priced transfers and the world’s top wages you can immediately become a big club. It isn’t hard to prove this theory. Just look at the rise of Manchester City and Chelsea when ownership groups pumped huge sums of money into their franchises. They don’t have the history of Tottenham, Liverpool or even Leeds United, but to say they aren’t big clubs would be foolish. A huge infusion of cash doesn’t guarantee you immediately becoming a big club, but over time if you continually throw money at players you are almost assured of having success. Even Monaco, who has now chosen to downsize their spending, did reach the Champions League via the cash investment model.

Resources could also take a few other forms. Southampton increases their club’s stature with its prodigious Youth Academy for example. This isn’t money per se, but of course, it sprang forth from a sizable investment by the Club. They may not pay equal wages with their Premier League counterparts, but they have chosen to make a different sort of investment with the hopes of punching above their weight. Fans must realize that investment can take many forms. You can become a big club by investing in youth as opposed to taking the quick fix of paying insane amounts on established stars.

Even with the acknowledgment that being a big club is all about money and resources, it doesn’t mean that rich tradition, passionate fan bases and the like have ceased to matter. They still play a role in the success of all clubs no matter their size. While a storied history can’t completely overcome a massive resource deficit, it can cut into it sharply. If Liverpool didn’t have their rich tradition they might be fighting relegation instead of competing for Europa League places at the moment. Surely they wouldn’t have been able to attract a managerial star like Jurgen Klopp.

In modern football cash is the requirement for consistent, massive success. Don’t be fooled though, the other things we’ve always valued (fans, history, etc) still have significant value. After all, what do you think breaks the tie when two rich clubs are battling for the same prize?