The New “Big Three” In English Football

Less than a day after Arsenal chairman Peter Hillwood said, “As far as I am aware, nobody has made any offer for him [Robin van Persie] and he is away so we are not in any dialogue at all. We are not in the remotest bit interested in selling him,” RVP has come out of the woodwork and declared that he would not be renewing his contract with the Gunners, opening the door for him to leave.

It’s already being reported that a £22 million transfer fee with Manchester City for RVP has been agreed upon, with RVP making £225,000 a week in wages. [Editor’s note 8/15: Arsenal have agreed to sell RVP to Manchester United for £24 million. The points below still hold true.] It’s a huge blow for Arsenal on and off the pitch, but for footballing reasons, selling RVP now is the right move. Although he was the English Premier League’s Player of the Year last campaign, he’ll be 29 in August and has only had one injury-free season with the club. Wenger has a knack for selling players right as their descending from their peak (Henry, Campbell, Vieira), and this transfer is one that he’ll probably feel comfortable with.

As for RVP, nobody can blame him for wanting to leave. He knows his own mortality, and that he can only play at this level for 1-2 more years if injury-free. He needs to win now, and Manchester City United can gift-wrap him a medal next year. Can Arsenal? No, because they’ve joined the second-tier of English Football. Not the literal 2nd division, but the second-level of football clubs. They’ve lost their best player three-straight seasons (Fabregas to Barcelona, Nasri and RVP to Man United), have over £70 million to reinvest in player sales that hasn’t been touched (RVP’s transfer fee essentially pays for the Podolski and Giroud buys), and went another season without a trophy.

Once the RVP transfer goes through, Man United will have officially cemented English football’s new “Big Three.” Along with Manchester United and Chelsea, they’re now part of a Big Three that can outspend every other team. Let’s examine the Big Three, and where the other members of the old “Big Four” now lay.


Manchester United
Forbes has listed the club as the most valuable sports organization in the world. Valued at over $2 billion, they’re worth more than the New York Yankees. Despite debts of over £400 million laid upon the club by the Glazer family, and despite the lack of big money buys the past few years, the team still has incredible spending power. A $100 million IPO on Wall Street doesn’t hurt either. Aside from their financial strength, Manchester United is always the odds-on favorite to win the League. Big Three material.

Winning the Champions League was nice, but they finished 6th in the League last season. Even with their floundering League form, Chelsea joins the Big Three because of owner Roman Abramovich’s billions. Realistically, he’s the only man who can compete with Man City’s spending. They’ve already fought off Man City for Eden Hazard’s signature this summer, so constant reinvestment into the squad to win titles will never be a problem for Abramovich’s Chelsea.

Manchester City
They’ve bought every star player imaginable. Owner Sheikh Mansour has spent nearly a billion pounds to since he bought the club, with roughly £565 million supplied solely by Mansour (the rest generated through Man City’s own operations). In September 2008, £500 million was set aside just for player investment—Man City has spent roughly £300 million of that in four years. They can’t spend quickly enough! All of that money finally returned something tangible last season, as they won the League title. Like it or not, Man City is now the most powerful club in world football.


No trophies in over six years, no reinvestment into the squad, and watching their best players leave has caused a real split between Arsenal and the new Big Three. They just can’t compete on the same level so long as Arsenal’s board refuses to spend until Financial Fair Play regulations come in.

Still recovering from the financial and sporting calamity that was the Hicks and Gillett Era at Anfield, Liverpool finished 8th last season. New owners John Henry and Fenway Sports Group have the financial muscle to get Liverpool back into the Big Three’s zone (they’ve spent over £100 million out of pocket since their takeover), but the right mixture of coaching, players, and organizational principles will be needed to return Liverpool to glory. John Henry has to rebuild the organization from the staff to the stadium while trying to compete for Champions League spots. A difficult task that makes them a member of the second-tier.

They’ve only recently competed with the likes of the old Big Four and Manchester City, largely in part to the emergence of youngsters like Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon stars. Coupled with a bargain buy in Rafael Van der Vaart, and the loan of the season in 17-goal man (and former Arsenal striker) Emmanuel Adebayor, Tottenham has assembled a quality, top-four side. Where they’ll ultimately fail is their lack of cash. Adebayor may have to leave because the club can’t pay his wage-demands, and they haven’t spent more than £10 million on a player since 2009. Their record buy was four years ago in the form of £17 million David Bentley. At present state, they simply don’t have the investment to compete long-term.

With the new Big Three, and the “Other” Big Three being laid out, who do you think will finish in the top four next season?

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

13 thoughts on “The New “Big Three” In English Football”

  1. How does arsenal not fit into big four? Champions league again and third place finish. Not to mention they still have one of best coaches in game. How does liverpool fit into other big three? Eighth place finish, get worse each year, new coach, no new signings. You make no sense. New castle is a better option for other big three

    1. If you honestly think that Arsenal can compete on the level of Chelsea, Man U, and Man City, I suggest you look at the silverware counts and the money spent. Arsenal is DRASTICALLY behind in both categories. It’s not even close.

      LFC is spending once again, and their season was a statistical outlier. They created enough chances for a top 4 finish but had one of the worst chance conversion rates in football (leading the league in shots off the woodwork didn’t help that). LFC is in a recovery phase, and is getting better each season. Although they didn’t finish as high as the year before, they created more chances and the aesthetic quality of football is much higher than in previous years.

      Newcastle had a great year, but they don’t have the talent level of Tottenham and have even less money to spend than the Spurs.

      I rest my case.

  2. Arsenal’s lack of spending isn’t down to Arsene Wenger

    It is the owners idea of running Arsenal as a ‘Self-sustaining club’ – not putting any of their own money in, the money Arsenal spend on wages and transfers is all money generated by Arsenal football club, none is added by an outside source. Ivan Gazidis has said that Arsenal are basically waiting for strict financial fair play rules before they can compete

    Aslong as the Arsenal board continue in their reigns and not investing a penny of their own money then they are never going to challenge for trophies, whilst the club continue to charge the highest ticket prices in the land.

    I don’t blame players for ditching Arsenal, the board don’t have the ambition spend that extra money to go after the league title, they are happy winning their cashpot by finishing 3rd or 4th whilst spending the minimum they can get away with. In RVPs statement he has basically attacked this.

    1. Thanks for the Arsenal intel. You’d think that with that incredible stadium and Champions League monies, plus all of the sales, there’d be investment. Nice to see an Arsenal fan (I assume you are) who isn’t peeved at Wenger.

      Isn’t the board aware that by time financial fair play rules are in place that it’ll probably be too late? That’s what makes LFC’s situation so dire. They’re essentially 4-5 years behind the new Big Three in terms of squad depth and spending because of Hicks and Gillett. Waiting around will just makes things worse.

  3. Yeah i’m a big Arsenal fan, go to plenty of games home and away

    I’d guess the board are aware of this, but it seems their only interest is in maximising profits, spending as little as possible whilst still getting champions league football, 4th is good enough for them forever

    Despite wealthy russian Usmanov wanting to invest heavily in the squad, they simply won’t sell shares to him, only to Stan Kroenke

    “I don’t think for Mr Usmanov and anyone else out there that we should pump money into the football club, We don’t think that is healthy or for the good of the game” Gazidis said.

    When Arsenal could compete financially Wenger proved what he could do, and is still achieving miracles with what he is doing with the budget he has.

    I think Liverpool have owners who genuinly want to take the club far, its just going to take some years as you said

  4. First of all, nice website Justin. Secondly, I agree with all that’s been said here though my definitions of “Big Three” and “second-tier” of English Football right now find some small disagreements here and there. In what exactly? Well, it’s perfectly clear to me that although you, Justin, have a point in saying that despite this season’s results (specifically in the League), Chelsea still has a word to say when it comes to financial and investment power. The problem is that what I saw this season was basically two giants that absolutly distanced themselves from all the others below them, not only in results, but also in the chemistry that both teams revealed on the pitch. That’s something that money can’t buy, at least right away (Man. City’s team chemistry has only showed improvements this season. Remember their other season’s in which they were even called a “bunch of mercenaries” instead of a real team?), and Chelsea will probably take some time to achieve that. This year will be one of reconstruction or even complete revolution (Di Matteo style not like AVB wanted to do, though that’s what I think Chelsea would need. The team’s historical players, however, won’t let it and just won’t accept that their cicle has come to an end).
    Speaking of AVB, I reach my third and final point: Tottenham is probably one of the most promising teams in the BPL. Even if the likes of Luka Modric and Adebayor (he just said he wouldn’t mind to see his wages lowered) leave, the Spurs still have in AVB one of the greatest “scouts” (yeah, he’s also that and much more) and an available 80 (some say it can reach 100) million euros in budget. A gift to the young and talented coach that will definitly take the Spurs to an all new level.

    Ps: I would include Everton on that second tier (low budget=good results).

  5. It was more like this:

    …Chelsea still has a word to say when it comes to financial and investment power,the problem is that what I saw this season was basically two giants that absolutly distanced themselves from all the others below them, not only in results, but also in the chemistry that both teams revealed on the pitch.

    Sorry ’bout that. ;D

    1. Thanks for the kind words! Yes, Chelsea is going under somewhat of an upheaval right now, and it will take some time to gel the new players together. But this is a club that has had a new manager basically every year for the past half decade. There’s something about this club that makes them able to come together quickly.

      If Tottenham have the money, I’m looking forward to them spending it then. It must be sooner rather than later though, as the Big Dogs of Europe will pry away Gareth Bale and Modric in no time. It’s all about winning and investing before the star players you have start looking elsewhere. It happened at Arsenal (Fabregas, Nasri, RVP, Adebayor) and Liverpool (Alonso, Mascherano, Torres), and Tottenham could be next.

      1. You’re probably right about Tottenham, but we’ll just have to wait and see. About Liverpool (you guys have one of my favourite players right now, Suarez; not to mention one of my favourite from all times… Do I really have to say his name?), I see loads of money with the potential to be well-spent (no more Andy Carroll’s kind of investment). I don’t know about Rodgers though… One could say “Hey, he has done a great job at Swansea!”. Ok, no argument against that. But what about Hodgson? He also did well with Fulham and then had to hear Liverpool fans chanting for Kenny’s name. I’m just saying, Liverpool has the potential but do they have the eye for business? Hmmm, like I said, wait and see my fiend, wait and see…

  6. For the most part, the tiers are correct. As far as ambition is concerned, combined with spending power and current squad strength, Man United, Man City & Chelsea are the top three destinations in the Premiership.

    With that in mind, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpool are a step below. Maybe you can include Newcastle & Everton in that second tier, but neither really has the spending power or appeal of the other three clubs. Everton has been consistent, and Moyes has had a huge part to play in that success, but their net spend in his reign is about £1mill., while LFC spent bucket loads last summer. Newcastle has just returned to Europe for the first time in years, and their successful buys have come on the cheap because of a phenomenal scouting system. When their success is more consistent, they’ll be a second tier team. But until then, you can’t say that they are.

    1. Hmm. I guess I agree with you, particularly when it comes to Newcastle (How could I forget about the Magpies?!), I can’t see them holding on to Cabaye for much longer. There are others of course, but Cabaye it’s just an extraordinary player! I mean did you see him in the Euro? Oh, those passes!

  7. First off, let me just say that I am really impressed with the site. I love the fact that a bunch of younger guys who are really informed are following their passion to build a growing career in the field they love.

    Second, you couldn’t be more spot on about the money. I will am co-authoring a piece right now with the author of the 7AMKickoff blog that outlines just how much Arsenal must invest to realize championship form again. It’s scary. Even scarier is how LFC is actually further ahead in investment, but how much less they have to show for it. It’s about wise investment for sure, but it’s investment that’s required nonetheless. This graphic sums up the gap between the top three and the second batch of three.

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