Failure of other top teams to challenge Manchester City very soon might see the Premier League eventually becoming a "Farmers' League".
Manchester City and Pep Guardiola continue to exert their dominance of the English Premier League, much to the displeasure of fans who fear that it might soon become a “Farmers’ League”.
With the Premier League generally kicking off with four or five teams believing they can challenge for top spot, English fans look down on countries where the title winners are seemingly known before the season even starts.
But the EPL is gradually loosing its much-famed competitive edge, no thanks to Guardiola’s all-conquering City side.
In this article, FootballOrbit assesses whether the Premier League is becoming a farmers league or not.
What is a “Farmers’ League”?
“Farmers’ League” is a derogatory term used by soccer fans — mostly on social media — to describe a football league which they think is not competitive enough. This term insinuates that the players playing in such league are local farmers, not elite professional players.
Jokingly suggesting that the league is made up of footballers whose actual daily occupation is farming, but play football in the evening!
Furthermore, similar terms like “Sunday League” or “Pub League”, are also used in belittling or insulting less competitive leagues.
A farmers’ league tends to lack quality and competition. A single or few great clubs dominate it, while the remaining teams have low expectations, and without realistic chances of winning the league any time soon.
English Premier League supporters — overwhelmingly believing their league to be the best — tend to tag other perceived weaker championships as “farmers’ leagues”.
Top leagues that have been accused of being “Farmers’ League”
Europe’s “Top Five Leagues” comprises of the English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, and the French Ligue 1. Of these, the Ligue 1 is regularly accused of being a ‘farmers league’ because it is generally considered the least elite of the top flights.
The top-tier of French football is always accused of being a one-horse race, with a single top side dominating the league at any given time.
In the late 1980s, Marseille were the reigning club, winning 5 straight French league titles, and Lyon followed in a similar fashion when they won 7 consecutive Ligue 1 championships in the early 2000s.
PSG have won 9 Ligue 1 titles out of a possible 11 over the last decade, and they seem on course to dominate France for the foreseeable future due to their immense riches and array of superstars.
Moreso, PSG have been winning the league far too easily, except on two occasions where Monaco and Lille pipped them to the title.
After Lille won the title in 2020/21, PSG proceeded to hire their manager, Christophe Galtier.
Additionally, the fact that Paris Saint-Germain regularly under-perform in the UEFA Champions League supports the argument that the Ligue 1 is not really competitive.
In fact, Marseille is the only French team to win the Champions League (1993). Monaco (2004) and PSG (2020) have also reached the Champions League final, but both lost.
Ligue 1 isn’t the only top-flight labelled as a “farmers’ league” by Premier League fans though, other championships are not spared……
In Germany, Bayern Munich have now won the Bundesliga 11 times in a row after pipping Borrusia Dortmund to the title on the final day in the 2022/23 season. Their strategy of targeting the best players from the rest of the Bundesliga has equally weakened other teams.
In Italy, Juventus were Serie A champions 9 seasons in a row between 2011/12 and 2019/20. Since then, they haven’t won it again though; with Inter Milan, AC Milan and Napoli becoming Italian champions in the last three seasons.
In Spain, only Athletico (twice) have broken Barcelona and Real Madrid’s dominance in La Liga since 2004.
So, Premier League fans enjoy trolling other European leagues as ‘farmers league’. But the great irony, however, is that the EPL itself could be in danger of turning into a league that lacks genuine competition.
Is the English Premier League set to become the new “Farmers’ League”?
The Premier League’s unique selling point has always been the fact that it is fiercely competitive. The English topflight is regarded as the toughest league in the world in terms of physicality, while its unpredictability makes it very exhilarating.
For instance, in 2015/16, Leicester City became title winners despite their 5000/1 odds to win the title according to bookmakers.
There is a quote that says “you become what you mock” — that has been the case of the Premier League in recent years.
In the past, the EPL was dominated by four traditional clubs: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. In recent years, the “Top Four” became the “Big Six” due to the rise of Manchester City and Tottenham.
The rise and rise of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City
In 2016, Manchester City appointed Pep Guardiola as their new manager to replace Manuel Pellegrini.
The Spaniard had made a name for himself at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, wowing the world with his brand of football. But critics said his “tiki taka” style of play, as well as his tactics, would never work in the English Premier League.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson said that Pep would find it difficult to replicate his previous successes in England.
At the end of his first season in England, Guardiola’s City finished third in the EPL.
Subsequently, the media was full of phrases like “welcome to a league without Granada and Frankfurt!”. The implication was that the Premier League is tougher than the other leagues and Pep won’t be dominating it that easily……….
………But just in his second season (2017/18), Man City secured the first league title of Guardiola’s tenure — doing so in emphatic fashion!!
They broke the Premier League record for most consecutive wins, with 18 victories between August and December 2017. The Cityzens also recorded 106 goals, 32 wins, and an unprecedented 100 points!!!
To show that it wasn’t just a one-off, Man City retained the title the following season.
In the Covid-19-struck 2019/20 season, an unstoppable Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side became Premier League Champions.
Manchester City duly wrestled their crown back in 2020/21 though, while also winning the FA Cup, EFL Cup, and reaching a first-ever UEFA Champions League final.
In 2021/22, Guardiola would take his side to yet another Premier League title — City’s second successive crown and 4th title in 5 seasons.
City reached their peak in 2022/23
Following a disappointing exit to Real Madrid in the Champions League, Guardiola reinforced his attack with the signing of Erling Haaland.
The Norwegian striker had an immediate huge impact at the Etihad. Haaland averaged a goal per game across all competitions in the 2022/23 season — scoring a whopping 52 goals in 53 matches!!!.
As a result, Man City maintained their strong dominance of the Premier League by retaining the title for a third consecutive season.
It was their 5th title in six seasons and 7th since 2012.
Moreover, it was the 5th under Pep Guardiola.
City also became the first team to secure three consecutive Premier League titles since Manchester United achieved the feat in 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2008/09.
The Spanish manager has now completed a “three-peat” in three major leagues around the world, having previously done so with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
It also means that he has won a league title in 11 of his 14 seasons as a manager!
One just needs to appreciate the 52-year-old’s greatness……
On his arrival in England, the narrative was that his football style could not be played in a physical league like the Premier League. Fast forward 7 years later, he seems to be turning the English top flight into a Farmers’ League.
The genius Guardiola has built a formidable dynasty that shows no signs of weakening. His extremely talented team lacks any observable vulnerabilities, a huge testament to Pep’s status as one of football’s greatest managers.
While Pep Guardiola deserves plenty of credit for his side’s brutal and relentless dominance, detractors always try to undermine his achievements at Man City by attributing his success to money.
The wealthiest clubs have generally always been the most decorated, and City are certainly no different. They have spent more than anyone else since Sheikh Mansour took over the club in 2008, with huge amounts lavished on star players to give Guardiola the quality to mould his side into a winning machine.
Besides, there is still a gloomy shadow over all the hysteria as City faced scrutiny over financial violations. In February, they were charged with 115 alleged breaches of the Premier League’s financial fair play regulations dating back to 2009, and accused of not cooperating in an investigation.
They maintain their innocence, though, and eagerly await the resolution of the matter.
But now, the uncomfortable truth is that Man City’s EPL dominance is reminiscent of the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A. That is, the Premier League is slowly being deprived of its much-cherished pride of being very competitive.
Moreso, the future looks scary as the league champions seems to be getting too predictable.
The Premier League generally kicks off with four or five teams believing they can challenge for top spot, but the narrative is changing.
Although Man City won the title by a single point in 2021/22, the genuine last 3-way title race in the EPL was in 2012/13. Since then, the title has been won by less than 9 points just only three times.
Arguments against the Premier League being a “Farmers’ League”
(1) The EPL is still very difficult to win or even survive in
The English Premier League is packed with a lot of talent and is still, arguably, the most competitive league in the world.
It can even be argued that it has generally become more competitive these days. Gone are the days when newly-promoted clubs could hope to finish in the top three — as a string of them did in the early 1990s.
The target of most new sides now is to avoid instant relegation. In fact, some teams that dominate the Championship (2nd tier) struggle to remain in the top flight — Norwich, Leeds United (and Fulham) as examples in recent seasons.
The money earned by established teams from TV rights and other revenues has made the EPL “tougher”, made smaller clubs hold on to their best players and buy stars, and built a massive gap between those in the top-flight and those in the lower divisions.
Recent league champions — Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester City — have ruthlessly fallen down the pecking order. In the recently concluded 2022/23 season, Liverpool failed to make the Top Four, Chelsea finished 12th, while Leicester got relegated!
(2) Manchester City’s squad depth and determination
Also, none of the titles that Manchester City won were extremely easy without utter determination as a team.
What really sets them apart from other teams is the depth of their squad which allows them to rotate their players frequently, which a lot of times provides them with fresher legs than other teams and makes no one player “undroppable”. It also allows them deal with injuries and fatigue better than other teams.
To City’s credit too, rather than becoming complacent over their success, their dominance over their rivals seems to be intensifying. Their relentless hunger, and dismantling of opponents, suggest that familiarity with winning silverware has only increased their appetite for more trophies.
In 2022/23, Guardiola’s side matched Manchester United’s historic treble win in 1999 by clinching the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League alongside the Premier League trophy.
Once upon a time, reaching 90 points in the EPL was extraordinary, only achieved by rare teams like Arsenal’s 2004 “Invincibles” and Man United’s 2006—2009 “three-peat” side.
But since Pep Guardiola’s second season at City, 3 of their 5 title wins have been sealed with total points of 100, 98 and 93. They have simply made gargantuan tasks look so ordinary. What a team!!!
(3) Decent performances of Premier League teams in UEFA competitions
Another reason why the Premier League is not (yet) a “farmers’ league” is that, unlike Ligue 1 sides like PSG who fail to replicate their domestic dominance in European competitions; English teams are performing well on the continental stage.
Three of the last five UEFA Champions League titles have been won by Premier League sides: (Liverpool 2019), (Chelsea 2021) and (Man City 2023).
While the 2019 and 2021 finals were even both all-English affairs — Liverpool vs Tottenham and Chelsea vs Manchester City, respectively .
Furthermore, 5 English teams have contested in the last 8 Europa League finals, while West Ham won the second ever edition of the UEFA Conference League in 2022/23.
Dominance in football is cyclical and not a new phenomenon, even in England.
Aston Villa in the 1890s, Arsenal in the 1930s, Liverpool in the late-70s and early-80s, and Manchester United on three occasions between 1992 and 2011, all won four titles in the space of five years.
City have been superb since Guardiola’s difficult first season in Manchester, but they are not too far ahead of their rivals that the title race would ever be considered a foregone conclusion in August — unlike in some other leagues.
The likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal (and probably Newcastle United) now need to mount serious challenges to Pep Guardiola’s all-dominating juggernaut.
Failure to do so very soon might see the EPL lose its appeal and glory to eventually fall into the abyss of being tagged a “Farmers’ League”
The Premier League is still the “best” league in the world, but certainly not miles better than other leagues to the extent of outrightly dismissing other leagues as “farmers leagues”.
Thanks to its very powerful marketing and branding, the English Premier League won the media battle which resulted in huge revenues. However, the other top leagues deserve credit for creating similar accomplishments and remaining competitive with fewer available tools.