IAN LADYMAN: Premier League must be cut to 18 clubs

IAN LADYMAN: The Premier League must be cut to 18 clubs, the bottom end is rotten… plus, Manchester United have not had a single offer for Paul Pogba – and I hope I’ve got it wrong again over Philippe Coutinho

  • Standards near the foot of the table don’t justify a 20-team Premier League
  • Clubs like Norwich and West Brom exist reasonably comfortably as ‘yo-yo’ clubs
  • Big crowds show that the FA Cup remains alive in the hearts and minds of fans
  • Manchester United would have sold Paul Pogba last summer if they could 
  • Philippe Coutinho may struggle to recapture his genius at Aston Villa

England’s top clubs don’t care much for the domestic cups. We know that from the teams they field and the things they say.

But it’s not smaller cup competitions English football needs but a smaller Premier League.

The top tier of English football is supposed to be elite. That’s the sell. But it’s misleading.

Bottom-of-the-table Norwich have collected just 10 points from 19 Premier League games

The quality at the top is terrific but at the bottom end the Premier League is rotten. The football is rubbish and has been for a decade. Standards near the foot of the table don’t justify a 20-team league. The only motivating factor for the status quo is money.

Since the 2011-12 season, the average number of points the team relegated in 20th position has amassed is a miserable 24. Only once during that time has a club mustered more than 30. That was West Brom with 31 four seasons ago.

Last year Sheffield United went down with 23. The year before Norwich won only 21. Prior to that Huddersfield earned only 16. This season? Well, Norwich the floor is yours once again.

So the pattern is clear and the argument for a Premier League of, say, 18 clubs begins to harden.

Clubs like Fulham, Norwich and West Brom exist reasonably comfortably as ‘yo-yo’ clubs

There are contributing factors to this malaise. The controversial parachute payment continues to be one. Teams coming up from the Championship know relegation will not kill them. The money they bank gives them a head start coming back up. Hence teams like Fulham, Norwich and West Brom exist reasonably comfortably as what we call ‘yo-yo’ clubs.

Executives at some top clubs do think something may give in time. They envisage an 18-team league. Quite how that would come to pass while any change has to be agreed by 14 of the 20 member clubs is hard to fathom but the concept does at least exist in people’s minds.

In terms of spectators of the Premier League, they are short changed a little and so are the TV companies. Much of what is provided by clubs at the wrong end of the table is turgid and, more damningly, just not remotely competitive enough.

An 18-team league would allow the fixture calendar to breathe. It is too congested and that is dangerous. If something goes wrong — as we have seen during the current Covid outbreak — then the squeeze affects every single competition.

Big crowds this weekend show that the FA Cup remains alive in the hearts and minds of fans

But the modern thinking that it’s the cups that have to change to create room is quite wrong. It is only the Premier League clubs — and some of the more ambitious teams in the Championship — who really think this.

Look at attendances in the FA Cup this weekend.

There were 52,000 at Newcastle, 40,000 at Chelsea, 16,000 at Hull, almost 17,00 at Millwall and 8,000 at Port Vale and Yeovil. The wild away-end scenes as Cambridge won at St James’ Park and even when Chesterfield scored just once in a big defeat at Stamford Bridge illustrate that in the hearts and minds of those who really matter — the supporters — the FA Cup remains alive and well and important.

Football is about hopes and dreams and friendship and shared experiences and escapism. The FA Cup, and to a lesser extent the League Cup, continues to give us that. The Premier League? Yes, that too but not always as much as we like to think.

The cups have taken enough of a kicking as the football landscape continues to change. It’s time to look for some give somewhere else.

I hope I’m wrong again over Coutinho

My earliest memory of watching Philippe Coutinho play for Liverpool is of him injuring his shoulder against Swansea in 2013. I wondered then if this brilliant little Brazilian would be too fragile for the Premier League. I was wrong.

My last memory involving Coutinho at Liverpool is of Jurgen Klopp explaining four and a half years later how the club simply could not stop him leaving for Barcelona. I feared Klopp’s team would never be the same without him. I was wrong again.

And now, at the age of 29, Coutinho is coming back to England, to Aston Villa.

Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho (above) is the little boy lost of European football

He made virtually no impact at Barcelona, likewise on loan at Bayern Munich. He is the little boy lost of European football.

Coutinho is a huge talent with a big heart but I don’t see him recapturing his genius at Villa Park.

I really hope I am wrong about that, too.

Newcastle bought Trippier for the Championship

People ask why Kieran Trippier has joined Newcastle but what is more interesting is why indeed they have chosen him.

Trippier is a fine full back but also an ultra-modern one who prefers to play his football in the opposition half.

For that to happen he really needs to play in a team that commands possession. Newcastle are not that team, which makes me wonder if they have bought Trippier with an eye on getting promoted next season. Newcastle will have plenty of the ball down in the Championship.

Newcastle may just be hedging their bets in signing England full back Kieran Trippier

It’s hard to buy players when you don’t know which division you will be in.

In recruiting Trippier, it seems Newcastle may just be hedging their bets.

United not had a single offer for Pogba

When Manchester United signed Paul Pogba in 2016, they insisted on a six-year-contract because they suspected his representative Mino Raiola would wish him to one day leave on a lucrative free transfer. 

This summer, that day will come to pass. 

I asked a United source why they hadn’t tried to sell their World Cup winner last summer, just to recoup a few quid. 

They said they would have — if they’d had a single offer.

Midfielder Paul Pogba is set to leave Manchester United on a free transfer this summer


Paul Pogba has scored just 38 goals in 212 games since he returned to Manchester United for £89million — a staggering £2.3m per strike!

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