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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
They say that a week is a long time in politics but, in football, it's a veritable epoch. This time seven days ago, Manchester City were struggling to pay their players, West Ham were enjoying their best start to a season in nine years and, at a surprisingly perky and entertaining Newcastle United, there was barely a hint of the chaos to come. What the hell happened?

I can't recall a time when I've ever felt so uneasy about the future of the game. Manchester City's inconceivable windfall is dangerous enough, but it is the other clubs and their reaction to it that concerns me most. They're running scared, and rightly so. Everton have ruled themselves out of contention for honours with chairman Bill Kenwright admitting that only a billionaire owner of their own could make them competitive. Rafa Benitez has acknowledged that Dr Al-Fayim's new toy are contenders for a Champions League place, a scenario which could lead to his own team tumbing into financial oblivion. Meanwhile, at West Ham and Newcastle, two relatively new owners appear to have concluded that the best route to success is to panic and engage upon a policy of undermining their manager at every step.

Chelsea's apparently limitless wealth is dwarfed by the fortunes piled up at the Middle Eastlands. With Manchester United still, for the moment, able to draw on the combined resources of their global branding and debt-funded transfer kitty, that's three superpowered football teams, light years ahead of the chasing pack.

Arsenal are too sensible to join in the cash-frenzy and Liverpool can't afford to, so that's them out of the equation. I don't like a world where Liverpool cannot, under anything other than freakish circumstances, win the league. I know that they haven't been in a genuine title race since Paula Abdul was in the charts, but I always assumed that one day someone would come and restore them. If a team like Liverpool, with all of their history and support, are out of contention, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

It is now simply a battle of the 'haves'. The 'have-nots' may as well pack up and go home, especially now that West Ham and Newcastle have demonstrated that it is incompetence that prevails in the chasing pack. What chance does anyone have now of breaking into the top four, and how long can they continue to throw cash at this hopeless cause?

I know that money has always played a part in football, but it's never been to this extent. Fifteen years ago, my own Southend United were in contention for a Premier League place. That will never happen again. Dr Al-Fayem could buy my club and the other 23 in their division without noticing it on his bank statement. He could buy anyone on the planet with just a small fraction of his fortune. The only way that anyone can compete is by...erm...being bought out by another ludicrously rich individual.

Eventually people will tire of watching teams that are doomed, though a lack of funding, to mediocrity. It is hope that makes football so compelling, but this week, for many clubs, the light at the end of the tunnel was snuffed out. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe this is the start of some golden era, but I 'm concerned. A combination of stupidity and rampant opulence may yet be the death of the English Premier League.