Unless your last name is Carnegie or Rockafeller, you dislike monopolies. The reason for your disdain is understandable. In the open market, a single business growing to gargantuan proportions can use its weight to either screw over consumers or suppliers. Often, they do both. On the one hand, you have Amazon and Wal-mart always trying to reduce prices and thus benefit consumers. However, how do they do this? By leaning hard and unrelentingly on suppliers. In Amazon’s case, for example, they’ve used eBook dominance to slash prices which reduces royalties paid to the authors and editors who make books happen in the first place.
Thus, we all dislike monopolies. However, there’s only one thing worse: trite journalism.
We’ve all shipped in a Features column from time-to-time. Sometimes your personal life just prevents you from coming up with that new, creative scorching hot take, and you have to take a tried-and-true headline but spice it up. Thus, David Hytner’s article “Will anyone break the Premier League’s top-four monopoly anytime soon?” fits the bill. The prose is nice. The story is reassuring. The paragraphing is excellent. There’s just one problem: it’s factually misleading.
First off, the article posits that there is a four team monopoly: Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United. Of those teams, Arsenal has consistently finished in the top four for the last decade. You could strongly argue the Gunners have a monopoly on a top four place. However, the case weakens for the other teams. For example, Manchester United finished outside the top four way back in, say, 2014. I can vaguely recall that time so far ago, when Uber was new and Tumblr was kinda old. I can even recall when Newcastle United finished top four. Yes I am a dinosaur!
Things are even worse when you recall that Chelsea finished outside the top four in 2012. City finished outside the top four in 2010. From 2005 to 2009 you have a strong case for a Top Four monopoly of Chelsea-Liverpool-United-Arsenal, but that era has passed. Since then, the race for a Top Four finish has become much more complicated. Hence all the “United opens the door to Liverpool” after every loss this Spring.
Of course, as in all markets, some businesses thrive, others do not, and success breeds success. Perhaps Hytner’s article is forward-looking and he’s predicting five more years of Chelsea-Arsenal-United-City. He had some salient points on who the clubs up top plan to expand their financial muscle. He may not be wrong. However, if history is any guide, Liverpool will probably change coaches and/or owners, get a massive investment in transfers, and knock one of those teams off the perch. There’s also a very good chance Spurs or Everton will have an amazing season and snatch a fourth place finish.
Thus, we can’t fall prey to the tyranny of the present. Aside from Arsenal (who could fall apart once Wenger retires), all the other teams have lived ups and downs in recent years. A top four finish this year means diddly squat for next year. That’s why they still even bother to, ahem, play the game.