With the season reaching its climax and with promotion to, and relegation from, the Premier League soon to be decided, the thought came about of which 20 sides would constitute the ideal or ‘perfect’ top-flight of English football. What would the league look like if you could pick the sides to be in it, as if you had the Football Manager Editor or the “Create A League” function on FIFA at your disposal in real-life?
Let’s kick off with the obvious sides – the so-called ‘Big Six’, Manchester United (1), Manchester City (2), Liverpool (3), Chelsea (4), Arsenal (5) and Tottenham Hotspur (6) who, despite probably deserving to be relegated in the aftermath of the Super League fiasco, are the backbone of the division. Without them anyway, there wouldn’t be many other sides to dislike and, well, they’d probably just try and form another new league amongst themselves if not included here.
The side most likely to break into that hexagon, at least in terms of league position, in the next five to ten years is Newcastle United (7) as a result of the injection of Saudi money. They’re in, and are likely to end up challenging City for titles, as well as acceptance in the Western World. The north-east misses the Tyne-Wear Derby and a “Sunderland (8) ‘Til I Die” Season 3 is needed, so the Black Cats sneak in as well.
The two sides snapping at the heels of the ‘Big Six’ this season are also involved – West Ham United (9), who came so close to a Europa League final, and Wolves (10): the Portuguese academy of the midlands. Given the need for local derbies in any league, and their status as a big club, European Cup winner and top-flight stalwart, Aston Villa, (11) of course are in the mix too. The same cannot be said for cross-city rivals Birmingham City, who look more likely to fall further down the leagues in coming years than return to the Premier League. The third midlands spot is taken up by Leicester City (12) – they did after all win the league just six years ago.
Everton (13) and Leeds United (14), two sides battling to just stay in the league this season without doubt merit inclusion here too for a myriad of reasons. Everton have spent the most years in the top-flight, have won nine league titles and Match of the Day would just feel wrong without them. Leeds were sorely missed in their 16 years away and add so much in terms of atmosphere and passion (Elland Road seems like a step back in time). The Merseyside derby and the Leeds versus Manchester United games are also a must, and hopefully something that will still be enjoyed next season.
The only thing stopping that from happening is Burnley. Sean Dyche worked wonders, but his sacking has stripped the club of their only interesting aspect and they’re more of a nuisance than anything now. Add in that we already have the claret and blue of Villa and West Ham, and there’s no place for them.
Fulham (15) and Norwich City’s status have already been sealed for next season. The two sides have swapped positions in the top-flight in each of the last four years (including this one) – neither can live while the other survives for the Harry Potter minded readers. Only one survives here and that’s the Cottagers. Norwich on the other hand are placed into a purgatorial league of sides not good enough for the Premier League but too good for the Championship historically, alongside fellow yo-yo clubs West Bromwich Albion and Watford. Fulham will be forced to join them if, this time next year, a third relegation is added to the three promotions achieved in the last five seasons.
Possibly accompanying them in promotion is Nottingham Forest (16) off the back of a remarkable run under Steve Cooper. After 23 years in the cold, and stints in League One, it’s about time one of English football’s most famous clubs is back in the big time. Any club that’s won the European Cup, let alone two in a row, warrants inclusion.
Fulham’s entry into the league means there’s no space for fellow West Londoners, Brentford. The Bees just miss out on being the “least hated side in the league” due to their lack of years in the Premier League. Add Brighton to that too – lovely football, nice seaside venue, but they’ve no true rivalries in the league, outside of the “M23 Derby” with Crystal Palace. Yes it is called that by some.
Palace are out for the same reason despite consolidating a top-flight status in recent years. Southampton (17) take that “happily entrenched in mid-table spot” on the basis of near double the years amongst the big boys and a need for a south coast side. They’re also responsible for two of the three 9-0 losses in Premier League history, which oddly boosts their candidacy here.
With just three spots left, tough calls have to be made. The likes of Bolton Wanderers, Derby County, Middlesborough and Charlton Athletic can all feel aggrieved to miss out, but the first spot goes to Blackburn Rovers (18) by the virtue of actually winning the Premier League in 1994-95. Of course, Derby won the old First Division but recency bias sees them lose out. The final two go to Sheffield Wednesday (19) and Sheffield United (20). Both have spent over 60 years in the top-flight – Wednesday shading it 66-62, and a Super Sunday Steel City derby feels like too good an opportunity to miss out on. Neil Warnock obviously in studio.
These 20 sides will arguably never make up the Premier League due to questionable ownership and financial inequality in the football pyramid, amongst other factors, but what a division it would be.
Below is the league table in full.