When the Premiership was created it was a stitch up. The big five were warping the league to serve their own aims. Papers complained, fans despaired, and the league threw its hands up in resignation.
Those big five were United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton. They were the five clubs always tipped to win something and each had a million fans or more. Other clubs would rise for a while, but these five were the giants that always came back.
Of course looking at old predictions shows the trouble with predicting. No one expected a Liverpool title drought. Spurs failed to recover from bankruptcy. And Everton just faded. Meanwhile Blackburn spent a fortune and rose to the top. Newcastle spent a fortune and rose to second. And Chelsea raised the bar for both spending a fortune and rising to the top.
But as the league starts to settle into its final shape again, there are signs the ‘big five’ is re-emerging, with Chelsea as long-term interlopers.
Two years ago Everton finished fourth. Their manager David Moyes publicly pushed to finish higher - and that gave them the edge to hold on to the end. Last year Spurs nearly did likewise, but manager Martin Jol did things different. He sheltered his players and played down expectations all season.
Spurs now look a natural fifth. Still not as good as the dominant four, they are better than the rest across all competitions. And they did that after losing their most influential player to ManU last summer.
But the more interesting story is Everton.
Everton’s overconfidence two years ago got results, but at a price. Raised expectations followed by early failures triggered a confidence crisis. At one stage they looked a certainty for relegation, and that prompted a change in attitude.
Well run for the first time in years, Everton did the unusual nd kept their good manager when times got tough. They spent money wisely to build a solid team rather than paper over cracks with aging stars.
Tactically sound and with an eye for good signings, Moyes learned an important lesson. He still exudes confidence, but protects players from expectations instead of hyping them up himself. That may sound less glorious but if it avoids collapses that last for months it will serve the club well.
Few people have noticed Everton’s revival because of that bad season last year. The resulting lack of European football drew attention away from the side. The blip was portrayed as a return to mediocre form. And no one noticed the side improve and learned from experience.
Of course eventually the old Moyes will return. Both Spurs and Everton have a big barrier to face in the next couple of years. Both sides can outplay and beat the modern ‘big four’ over 90 minutes. But their capacity to throw away commanding leads shows that neither side yet believes they are worthy.
Spurs lost leads in cup exits to Arsenal, Chelsea and Seville this season. In each game they showed a lack of belief that they were really good enough to win. They talked in terms of ‘could win’ not ‘should win’ and seemed grateful for cup runs instead of angry at defeat.
When Everton step up to match Spurs, Moyes’ instincts may serve him better. His aggressive belief and will to win backfired before, but might be fit the bill when better players have a chance to win trophies.
So with Spurs improved and Everton rising, those long wrong predictions may finally prove true. Sort of.