Those of you familiar with Britain’s foremost soccer league, the English Premier League (EPL), know that there is generally no parity – equality in pay – and that a handful of teams tend to dominate. In fact, in the last 16 years, only one team has ever failed to win the EPL title (which is won by placing first in the season standings) after leading with 10 weeks to go. Also, only five different clubs have won an EPL title, and most of those titles have been won by Manchester United.
The prime reason for this lack of parity is the absence of a salary cap or mechanisms for limiting clubs’ spending on their players. This allows rich teams, like Manchester United and Chelsea, to spend big money on players, while less famous teams are stuck with woefully inferior squads. Extremely wealthy owners have attempted to bring teams to prominence through torrents of spending on talent. This has sometimes worked, with two-time EPL champion Manchester City being the best example. However, this is far too rare to generate any lasting parity in the EPL, so EPL seasons generally follow the same old script. It’s pretty hard to see why someone would follow a league where only a handful of teams can ever win and late season comebacks don’t exist.
But then again, sometimes the unexpected happens and you have seasons like this one. At the moment, the team on top of the standings in the Premier League is Leicester City. Leicester’s current stint in the Premier League only began in 2014 and, last year, they finished 14th out of 20 Premier League teams, barely avoiding relegation to the next tier of clubs. But this year, with only nine games to go, Leicester has a five-point lead in the standings (teams are awarded three points for each win and one for each draw), meaning that the club might become the unlikely sixth team to ever win the EPL. If they pull it out, they’ll have won the title without crazy spending – in fact, they’ll have done it with little more than a change in coaching and some luck. In contrast, last year’s champion, Chelsea, was near the bottom of the standings for most of the early season and has only recently moved up to 10th place. Among the other traditionally dominant teams (Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool), the highest ranked team is Arsenal in third place, eight points behind Leicester.
As American sports fans, we might not understand how unusual this is, as we’ve grown accustomed to late-season comebacks, accustomed to the underdog who triumphs in the championship. In the EPL, however, very few teams ever get the chance to win a title, and the fact that Leicester and Tottenham are doing so well this year is truly unique. That said, in my view, this isn’t enough to make an EPL season truly exciting. Even if teams without a history of success are winning the league, they are doing so slowly, over the course of a 10-month season, and they’re doing so without any real chance of another team catching up to them. That’s just not exciting when compared to the constant shifting of the American sports landscape, where many teams have realistic chances at earning a playoff spot and even a championship. From my experience studying abroad at Oxford this year, I can see that Leicester City’s success is something of a big deal to the natives, but as an American, I just don’t get it.