This article has come about from many wasted hours arguing in TFH office about who are the genuine big clubs in football and more importantly what makes a big club. The creation of the Roman Abramovich led money clubs such as Chelsea and Man City has blurred the lines of what makes a big club and whether a big club is bought or is created after many years.
The most recent round of debate took place between a few friends, let’s call them Adam and Mike and myself. All made genuine points but were etched in tribalism and were constrained to ensure that their clubs (Man City and Liverpool) were included on the big club list. The debate focused on coming up with 5 categories that a big club must hit to count as a genuine football powerhouse. I will mainly use Manchester City as the example for this debate
The question is do you club count as a big club?
Having a faithful set of supporters is a key factor for any football club but have a huge following at both home and away games along with a generous following of ‘stay at home’ fans is a staple of any ‘big club’. However relying on this alone does not count, how Newcastle United claim to be a big club because they get 55,000 at St James Park is ridiculous. In a one team city, it would be embarrassing if they didn’t get 55,000 every week. Man City have always had a strong following even when they were shit and playing Rochdale and have also been in the Top 6 average home attendance in the League since 2003. They can triumphantly claim that they have more fans in Manchester then Man Utd who are much more successful, so they can tick themselves off for the fan base category.
2. A traditional of regular success both domestically and internationally.
Let’s be honest you cannot claim to be a big club if you are competing at the wrong end of the table on a regular basis and don’t compete for trophies domestically and at international level (Again, tough luck Newcastle). This is where Manchester City fall down for me, they have only recently begun to compete for domestic silverware and have admittedly done well, but so they should when you have spent £830 million since 2008 on 55 players and think paying £23 million for Joleon Lescott is acceptable. If you rewind back 15 years ago City were in the old first division now known the Championship and last won a European trophy in 1970 with their recent history in Europe has left much to be desire. Recently they are competing for the top trophies in England and developing their ability in Europe but the top clubs have been competing at these levels for the last 20+ years. So on this point Man City don’t qualify, similar to the way Liverpool, Everton don’t but alternatively for their lack of recent success rather than a lack of historical success.
3. Big players in their teams on a regular basis.
We can all recall the like of Di Stefano, Van Basten, Johan Cruyff, Beckenbauer from years gone by and more recently Ronaldo, Zidane, Messi and Lahm. The big clubs have a past and present of having the best players in their sides, can Man City say that is true with them? Yes they have the likes of Aguero, Silva and Kompany who would get in to nearly every side in the world but can they claim that Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell were truly world class? The biggest clubs can constantly claim to have world class talent within their ranks throughout their history and continue to attract the world class or create the highest calibre players to this day.
4. A global appeal.
If you go to a small village in African in the arse end of nowhere and ask if they know who Man City are you may struggle compared to if you asked the same question of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United. The only reason Man City are known outside of England is due to their financial situation and ability to spend silly money on signings (now I know why Adam wanted ‘Wealth’ to be a category for a big club. The money men at the Etihad are spending a small fortune, well a couple of hours profit to raise the profile of City across the world which will be based on the fact that they don’t have a global appeal due to a longer history of being average than being any good. Everywhere in the world you will see people wearing he shirts of the biggest clubs, when its Comic Relief you don’t see any African’s in Man City top but you do see some poor soul running round in a blag Wayne Rooney number
5. An identity
This is one of the most important things that differentiate a true upper echelon team and just an average or domestically big club. An identity that transcends the past and present but most importantly secures their future as a footballing dynasty. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man Utd, AC Milan all have a clear identity that shapes the club and all those that play and support it. It is not manufactured and cannot be bought in a 3 seasons, it comes from the years of success both on and off the pitch and takes decades to create. Manchester City along with the majority of other clubs are yet to define their identity but unlike many others have the opportunity to create a new one due to the financial backing and future plans from the City Football Group. On the other hand Liverpool are stuck in their identity of years gone by and haven’t secure it with regular success on both domestic and European fronts since the mid-80s, this was Mike’s main point for Liverpool but can be dismissed as quickly as their title challenges for the last 25 years.
In conclusion, there are only small handful of clubs that can lay claim to be a complete football institution. I have decided on a 4 tiered pyramid system to separate the big boys from the pretenders. The bottom tier is the biggest as let’s be honest most teams are averagely shit! The top tier is the smallest as there’s not many truly exceptional clubs.
Tier 4- Generally shite and don’t offer much, for example Wigan Athletic, Hull City, Queens Park Rangers. Not many fans, don’t win anything other than the odd promotion usually followed by a swift relegation.
Tier 3- These are often categorised by signing bang average players like Gabriel Obertan who say’ I’m so happy to sign for such a big club’ They pin their hopes on the fact they have decent attendance, basically Newcastle are the flag bearers of this tier and are most definitely not a big club.
Tier 2- These are the teams just below the top echelons of football, they have a history or recent history of success but not the two together and also have a good local and international fan base but may struggle to attract the best players on a regular basis. Yes Liverpool, Arsenal, Man City, and Chelsea you are in here.
Tier 1- They hit all the 5 criteria above and will continue to do some even if there is the odd barren year, these are the likes of Man Utd, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and AC Milan. Their names will echo forever in football.
The beauty of this is that all positions are interchangeable and I’m sure that Man City will continue to spend those vast sums of oil money to ensure that in 10 years’ time they are clearly in Tier 1. Until then stop claiming to be a big club, your only just better then Newcastle!