To quote a very famous man within football circles, “some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”
Bill Shankly was renowned as a man who said what he thought and the quote above was one that divided opinion; some believed this was a step too far whilst others believed he hit the nail on the head. Whatever your view, one thing is clear. For some people their clubs are part of their family and with every defeat there is a mourning process. To many fans, a relegation can almost feel like a death whilst a league or cup win, conversely, is more like the elation of new life.
I read an article last week that looked at the relegation system in Argentina and this led me to wondering what the repercussions of implementing a similar system within the Premier League would have meant over the past 10 years. For those of you who are unfamiliar with how the process works the teams to be relegated each season are calculated based on the average number of points each team has scored across the most current 3 season period. If less than 3 seasons have been completed by a team then the total number of points would be divided by the number or seasons that have been completed by that team in the last 3 seasons.
There have been some fairly famous relegations in recent seasons including Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers, Middlesbrough and Newcastle United. On countless occasions we hear the words “they’re too good to go down” and quite often they do. So, would these teams have been saved from their fate and, if so, what would the repercussions have been?
This season saw two fairly famous relegations in the form of Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday alongside Watford. The Crazy Gang, as Wimbledon were affectionately known, have seen a complete transformation over the past 10 years and, after slipping down all the way to League Two, are now battling to work their way back up in the form of MK Dons. Sheffield Wednesday, meanwhile, were this week relegated to League One and will play alongside MK Dons.
The Argentinean system for relegation would have been enough to save Sheffield Wednesday from relegation with Bradford City taking their place but Wimbledon and Watford would still have suffered the same fate. Whether or not Sheffield Wednesday would have remained in the Premier League much longer is a matter open for debate but the drop in income that they have had since their relegation has contributed to their downfall in a big way.
The 2000/2001 season saw another famous relegation in the form of Manchester City, who joined Bradford City and Coventry City in dropping down to the Championship. If the relegation standings had been calculated using the Argentinean system then City would have actually fared worse and would have been 19th instead of 18th. None of the teams in this season would have been saved due to the 17th worst average being 44 points for Derby County.
Derby County and Leicester were joined in their relegation fate by Ipswich Town just 12 months after the latter had a remarkable 5th place in their first season back in the Premier League. However, if the average of the past 3 seasons had been calculated then Ipswich would have beaten the drop quite comfortably as they had the 9th best score over the period with 51 points.
Instead, the newly promoted Bolton Wanderers would have been relegated and this would surely have dramatically altered the course of events over the next few seasons as Bolton then went on to consolidate their place as a top flight club and have stayed there ever since, even featuring in European competition.
West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland all dropped to the Championship at the end of this season with Sunderland posting a particularly depressing points total of 19 for the season. It was a far cry from the football that had propelled them into the top 10 only a few years earlier as a result of Kevin Phillips’ goals but two poor seasons on the bounce would have ensured they were destined for the drop anyway.
The newly promoted West Bromwich Albion only recorded 26 points and so would have had the worst record but West Ham United, having finished as high as 7th place in the previous season, would easily have beaten the drop under the Argentinean system with the 15th best average in the league. Once more the team that would have been relegated instead is Bolton Wanderers as they very narrowly avoided relegation by 2 points for the second season running.
One of the most famous relegations ever from the Premier League occurred in 2004 when Leeds United plunged into the Championship as a result of gross mismanagement. Their chairman had played a very risky gamble with regards to Champions League qualification in previous seasons but when they missed out in the 2001/2002 season to Newcastle United things went wrong very quickly.
Without the Champions League money Leeds United were forced to sell off their main assets and players such as Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Rio Ferdinand all left the club. The squad was decimated by the consequences of the failed gamble and had been plummeting down the league table ever since. With relegation came further financial turmoil for Leeds United and they eventually slipped down to League One where they are now beginning to come to terms with the effects of what happened after the end of the 2001/2002 season.
Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers were the other teams to go down that season after having only been promoted in the previous season and they would have been joined by the other newly promoted team, Portsmouth, if the Argentinean relegation system was in place. Regardless of this Leeds United would probably still have hit rock bottom financially but would the hit have been so big?
Interestingly, Portsmouth actually finished in 13th place that season but, with teams such as Everton, Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham Hotspurs underachieving to finish below them, their points haul of 45 would not have been enough to save them.
Despite having been a solid mid-table side in recent seasons, Southampton finished bottom of the table and were relegated to the Championship alongside the newly promoted Crystal Palace and Norwich City. The other newly promoted team, West Bromwich Albion, beat the drop by just a single point. Due to Southampton’s previous good seasons, they would have been saved from relegation with the last of the newly promoted teams taking their place.
The financial problems of the club were well documented at the time and what has subsequently followed only serves to back this up. Southampton are now in League One and, but for a 10 point deduction for financial reasons, could have been sitting in the playoff places with 1 game to play. I do believe however that if Southampton had beaten the drop in the 2004/2005 season then it would surely have only been a matter of time before they were relegated.
The 2005/2006 season was a good one for the teams that had been promoted from the Championship with both West Ham United and Wigan Athletic able to finish in the top 10 (9th and 10th respectively). The other newly promoted team, Sunderland, posted the worst ever Premier League points total up to that season with 15 points having scored only 26 goals. Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion joined them in being relegated, although Birmingham could have been saved with the Argentinean system and Portsmouth would have taken their place.
After 3 solid seasons in the Premier League under Steve Bruce, Birmingham were pretty woeful over the course of the season and finished 4 points behind Portsmouth in 17th place. Portsmouth had finished 13th and 16th in the previous seasons and looked like being in danger of slipping out of the Premier League once more.
Following on from recent trends, 2 of the 3 newly promoted teams from the Championship immediately returned there in the form of Sheffield United and Watford, with the other team being Charlton Athletic. Many fans will remember this season for the scandal that surrounded West Ham United and, in particular, their marquee summer “signings” Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.
Neil Warnock, the then Sheffield United boss, was quite vehement in his protestations against the situation and demanded that West Ham United should be relegated instead of his team as a result of the illegal signings. The FA, however, refused to take this course of action and a huge legal battle ensued with Sheffield United demanding £30m compensation from West Ham United.
The Argentinean system would have had no effect whatsoever on the relegated teams in this season however as Charlton Athletic could not be saved from their fate by Alan Pardew after earlier being “guided” by Iain Dowie and Les Reed. It was a cruel season for Sheffield United who were only relegated on goal difference, as they were one goal worse than Wigan Athletic.
Yet again 2 out of the 3 newly promoted sides were destined for relegation as Reading, who had performed so admirably the previous season, were joined by Birmingham City and Derby County. Once more a team was relegated on goal difference with Reading and Fulham being tied on points after 38 games with Fulham being 3 goals better over the course of the season.
Sunderland, the other newly promoted team, would have replaced Reading if the Argentinean system was in place. The season saw Derby County set several unwanted records with the lowest ever points total (11), least goals scored (20), most goals conceded (89) and worst ever goal difference (69).
Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion were relegated last season with the Geordies being the biggest of the lot. Many fans believed that Newcastle were too good to go down but, after a much publicized falling out between The Messiah (Kevin Keegan) and Mike Ashley the club entered a period of huge turmoil.
In a move that shocked English football, Joe Kinnear was appointed manager and, although things picked up, his subsequent heart problems meant that Chris Hughton took charge for a short period before Alan Shearer had a brief stint in charge to attempt to save the club from relegation.
Interestingly, both Newcastle United and Middlesbrough would have been spared relegation with the Argentinean system with Hull City and Sunderland taking their places.
Whether or not the Argentinean system is fair is a matter that is up for dispute and it is widely regarded as a way to ensure that the more famous teams are not relegated on the back of one dodgy season. It is clear from the findings above that this is, in most cases, how the Premier League would be affected.
Some of the more famous teams such as Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham United, Leeds United, Southampton and Newcastle United that had long been part of the Premier League would all have been saved whilst less fashionable clubs at the time such as Bradford City, Bolton Wanderers, Portsmouth, West Bromwich Albion and Hull City would have taken their places.
In closing, I guess it is safe to say that adopting this kind of system would have massive repercussions on the Premier League but would they be for the better? What is clear is that the bigger clubs would be afforded slips which may keep the standard of the league higher but, in the long term, it would surely only serve to make the elite even more elite whilst ensuring that teams being promoted would need to perform way above current expectations to retain their status as a Premier League club.
Personally, I think it would be a bad move for the Premier League to adopt this kind of system as, from what I can see, it would surely thwart interesting competition and the gap between the Premier League and the Championship, which is quite considerable at present, would surely only grow. What are your thoughts?
Article that gave me the idea: