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bouncing back

Premier League

The Premier League, colloquially referred to as the Premiership, is an English professional league for football clubs. At the top of the English football league system, it is the country's primary football competition. It is contested by 20 clubs, operating a system of promotion and relegation with The Football League. The Premier League is a corporation in which the 20 member clubs act as shareholders. Seasons run from August to May, with teams playing 38 games each. It is sponsored by Barclays Bank, and is therefore officially known as the Barclays Premier League.

The competition formed as the FA Premier League on 20 February 1992 following the decision of clubs in the Football League First Division to break away from The Football League, which was originally founded in 1888, and take advantage of a lucrative television rights deal. The Premier League has since become the world's most watched sporting league. It is the world's most lucrative football league, with combined club revenues of around £1.4 billion in 2005–06, which are expected to rise to around £1.8 billion for 2007–08 due to media revenues. It is also ranked first in the UEFA rankings of leagues based on performances in European competitions over the last five-years, ahead of Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A.

A total of 42 clubs have competed in the Premier League, but only four have won the title: Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, and Chelsea. The current champions are Manchester United, who won their tenth Premier League title in the 2007–08 season, the most of any Premier League team.

History

Origins

Despite significant European success during the 1970s, the 1980s had marked a low point for English football. Stadiums were crumbling, supporters endured poor facilities, hooliganism was rife, and English clubs were banned from European competition following the events at Heysel in 1985. The Football League First Division, which had been the top level of English football since 1888, was well behind leagues such as Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga in attendances and revenues, and several top English players had moved abroad. However, by the turn of the 1990s the downward trend was starting to reverse; England had been successful in the 1990 FIFA World Cup, reaching the semi-finals. UEFA, European football's governing body, lifted the five-year ban on English clubs playing in European competitions in 1990 and the Taylor Report on stadium safety standards, which proposed expensive upgrades to create all-seater stadiums in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, was published in January of that year.
Premier League champions
Season Winner
1992–93 Manchester United
1993–94 Manchester United
1994–95 Blackburn Rovers
1995–96 Manchester United
1996–97 Manchester United
1997–98 Arsenal
1998–99 Manchester United
1999–2000 Manchester United
2000–01 Manchester United
2001–02 Arsenal
2002–03 Manchester United
2003–04 Arsenal
2004–05 Chelsea
2005–06 Chelsea
2006–07 Manchester United
2007–08 Manchester United
Television money had also become much more important; the Football League received £6.3million for a two-year agreement in 1986, but when that deal was renewed in 1988, the price rose to £44m over four years. The 1988 negotiations were the first signs of a breakaway league; ten clubs threatened to leave and form a "super league", but were eventually persuaded to stay. As stadiums improved and match attendance and revenues rose, the country's top teams again considered leaving the Football League in order to capitalise on the growing influx of money being pumped into the sport.

Foundation

At the close of the 1991 season, a proposal for the establishment of a new league was tabled that would bring more money into the game overall. The Founder Members Agreement, signed on 17 July 1991 by the game's top-flight clubs, established the basic principles for setting up the FA Premier League. The newly formed top division would have commercial independence from the Football Association and the Football League, giving the FA Premier League license to negotiate its own broadcast and sponsorship agreements. This was considered necessary so that English clubs could once again compete with and beat the best of Europe, while attracting the best talent in the world, something which in 1991 seemed practically unthinkable.

In 1992 the First Division clubs resigned from the Football League en masse and on 27 May 1992 the FA Premier League was formed as a limited company working out of an office at the Football Association's then headquarters in Lancaster Gate. This meant a break-up of the 104-year-old Football League that had operated until then with four divisions; the Premier League would operate with a single division and the Football League with three. There was no change in competition format; the same number of teams competed in the top flight, and promotion and relegation between the Premier League and the new First Division remained on the same terms as between the old First and Second Divisions.

The 22 inaugural members of the new Premier League were Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Coventry City, Crystal Palace, Everton, Ipswich Town, Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Oldham Athletic, Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, and Wimbledon.

Establishment

As of the end of the 2007–08 season, there had been 16 completed seasons of the Premier League. The league held its first season in 1992–93 and was originally composed of 22 clubs. The first ever Premier League goal was scored by Brian Deane of Sheffield United in a 2–1 win against Manchester United. Due to insistence by FIFA, the international governing body of football, that domestic leagues reduce the number of games clubs played, the number of clubs was reduced to 20 in 1995 when four teams were relegated from the league and only two teams promoted. On 8 June 2006, FIFA requested that all major European leagues, including Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga be reduced to 18 teams by the start of the 2007–08 season. The Premier League responded by announcing their intention to resist such a reduction. Ultimately the 2007–08 season kicked off again with 20 teams. The league changed its name from the FA Premier League to simply the Premier League in 2007.

Corporate structure

The Premier League is operated as a corporation and is owned by the 20 member clubs. Each club is a shareholder, with one vote each on issues such as rule changes and contracts. The clubs elect a chairman, chief executive, and board of directors to oversee the daily operations of the league. The Football Association is not directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the Premier League, but has veto power as a special shareholder during the election of the chairman and chief executive and when new rules are adopted by the league.

The Premier League sends representatives to UEFA's European Club Forum, the number of clubs and the clubs themselves chosen according to UEFA coefficients. The European Club Forum is responsible for electing three members to UEFA's Club Competitions Committee, which is involved in the operations of UEFA competitions such as the Champions League and UEFA Cup.

Competition format and sponsorship

Competition

There are 20 clubs in the Premier League. During the course of a season, which lasts from August to May, each club plays the others twice, once at their home stadium and once at that of their opponents, for a total of 38 games. Teams receive three points for a win and one point for a draw. No points are awarded for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points, then goal difference, and then goals scored. At the end of each season, the club with the most points is crowned champion. If points are equal, the goal difference and then goals scored determine the winner. If still equal, teams are deemed to occupy the same position. If there is a tie for the championship, for relegation, or for qualification to other competitions, a play-off match at a neutral venue decides rank. The three lowest placed teams are relegated into the Football League Championship and the top two teams from the Championship, together with the winner of play-offs involving the third to sixth placed Championship clubs, are promoted in their place.

Qualification for European competitions

The top four teams in the Premier League qualify for the UEFA Champions League, with the top two teams directly entering the group phase. The third and fourth placed teams enter the competition at the third qualifying round and must win a two-legged knockout tie in order to enter the group phase. However, this has changed as of the 2008–09 season, so that the top three teams enter the 2009–10 UEFA Champions League at the group stage, and the fourth-placed team enters the third qualifying round for non-champions. The fifth placed team automatically qualifies for the UEFA Cup, and the sixth and seventh placed teams can also qualify, depending on what happens in the two domestic cup competitions. If the FA Cup winners qualify for the Champions League, the runner-up is awarded the UEFA Cup place; if the runner-up has also qualified for the Champions League, the spot goes to the next-highest placed league finisher not already qualified for Europe. If the League Cup is won by a team that has already qualified for Europe, the League Cup's UEFA Cup spot also goes to the next highest placed team in the League (unlike the FA Cup spot, it is never transferred to the losing finalist). Prior to 2008–09, the highest placed team that had not qualified for the UEFA Cup was allowed the opportunity to compete in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, provided they had applied to enter the Intertoto Cup in the next season. The Intertoto Cup was discontinued after 2008.

An exception to the usual European qualification system happened in 2005, when Liverpool won the UEFA Champions League, but did not finish in a Champions League qualification position in that season's Premier League. UEFA gave special dispensation for Liverpool to enter the Champions League, giving England five qualifiers. UEFA subsequently ruled that the defending champions of the trophy qualify for the competition the following year regardless of their domestic league placing. However, for those associations with four participants in the Champions League, this means that if the Champions League winner falls outside of its domestic league's top four, it will qualify at the expense of the fourth-ranked team in the league.

The Premier League was recently promoted to the top of the UEFA rankings of European leagues based on their performances in European competitions over a five-year period. This broke the eight-year dominance of the Spanish league, La Liga. The top three leagues in Europe are currently allowed to enter four teams into the Champions League. The UEFA president Michel Platini, had proposed taking one place from the Premier League's quota, and allocating this place to the FA Cup winners. This proposal though, was rejected in a vote at a UEFA Strategy Council meeting.

In the same meeting that Platini's suggestion that FA Cup winners should qualify for the Champion's League rather than the UEFA Cup was rejected, it was however agreed upon that the third-placed team in the Premier League would receive automatic qualification for the group stages, rather than entry into the Third Qualifying Round as at present, while the fourth-placed team would enter a redesigned two tiered qualification round against a team from a higher ranked nation than they had previously been under the old rules. This was part of Platini's plan to increase the amount of teams qualifying directly into the Group Stage, while simultaneously increasing the number of teams from lower-ranked nations in the competition proper.

Sponsorship

Since 1993, the Premier League has been sponsored. The sponsor has been able to determine the league's sponsorship name. The list below details who the sponsors have been and what they called the competition:

  • 1993–2001: Carling (FA Carling Premiership)
  • 2001–2004: Barclaycard (Barclaycard Premiership)
  • 2004–2007: Barclays (Barclays Premiership)
  • 2007–2010: Barclays Premier League

Finances

The Premier League is the most lucrative football league in the world, with total club revenues of over £1.4 billion in 2005–06 season according to Deloitte, making it 40% above its nearest competitor: Italy's Serie A. Revenues have increased to approximately £1.8 billion in the 2007–08 season, when new media rights deals started. Based on November 2007 exchange rates, £1.8 billion converts to a gross annual league revenue of about US$3.7 billion. For the past few seasons, the Premier League's gross revenue (£1.4bn) has been the fourth highest for any sports league worldwide, behind the annual revenues of the three most popular North American major sports leagues (the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association), but ahead of the National Hockey League.

In terms of world football, the Premier League clubs are some of the richest in the world. Deloitte, who annually release figures on club revenues through its "Football Money League", listed eight Premier League clubs in the top 20 for the 2005–06 season. No other league has more than four clubs in this table, and while La Liga rivals Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona take up two of the top 3 places, no other Spanish clubs are listed in the top 20. Premier League teams have dominated the list for many years, and even topped the list for almost a decade until the 2004–05 season. After the Premier League's new TV deal went into effect, the league-wide increase in revenues is expected to increase the Premier League clubs' standing in the list, and there is a possibility that a Premier League club will be top of the list.

Another significant source of regular income for Premier League clubs remains their revenue from stadium attendances, which, with the 2005–06 average attendance of 34,364 for league matches, is the fourth highest of any domestic professional sports league in the world, ahead of Serie A and La Liga, but behind the German Bundesliga. This represents an increase of over 60% from the average attendance of 21,126 recorded in the league's first season (1992–93). However, during the 1992–93 season the capacities of most stadiums were reduced as clubs replaced terraces with seats in order to meet the Taylor Report's 1994–95 deadline for all-seater stadiums. The 2005–06 figure, however, is lower than the Premier League's record average attendance of 35,464, set during the 2002–03 season.

Media coverage

United Kingdom and Ireland

Television has played a major role in the history of the Premier League. The money from television rights has been vital in helping to create excellence both on and off the field. The League's decision to assign broadcasting rights to BSkyB in 1992 was at the time a radical decision, but one that has paid off. At the time pay television was an almost untested proposition in the UK market, as was charging fans to watch live televised football. However, a combination of Sky's strategy, the quality of Premier League football and the public's appetite for the game has seen the value of the Premier League's TV rights soar.

The Premier League sells its television rights on a collective basis. This is in contrast to some European Leagues, including Serie A and La Liga, in which each club sells its rights individually, leading to a much higher share of the total income going to the top few clubs. The money is divided into three parts: half is divided equally between the clubs; one quarter is awarded on a merit basis based on final league position, the top club getting twenty times as much as the bottom club, and equal steps all the way down the table; the final quarter is paid out as facilities fees for games that are shown on television, with the top clubs generally receiving the largest shares of this. The income from overseas rights is divided equally between the twenty clubs.

The first Sky television rights agreement was worth £191 million over five seasons. The next contract, negotiated to start from the 1997–98 season, rose to £670 million over four seasons. The third contract was a £1.024 billion deal with BSkyB for the three seasons from 2004–05 to 2006–07. The league brought in £320 million from the sale of its international rights for the three-year period from 2004–05 to 2006–07. It sold the rights itself on a territory-by-territory basis. Sky's monopoly was broken from August 2006 when Setanta Sports was awarded rights to show two out of the six packages of matches available. This occurred following an insistence by the European Commission that exclusive rights should not be sold to one television company. Sky and Setanta paid a total of £1.7 billion, a two-thirds increase which took many commentators by surprise as it had been widely assumed that the value of the rights had levelled off following many years of rapid growth. Setanta also hold rights to a live 3 pm match solely for Irish viewers. The BBC has retained the rights to show highlights for the same three seasons (on Match of the Day) for £171.6 million, a 63% increase on the £105 million it paid for the previous three year period. Radio Telefís Éireann broadcast the highlights in Ireland. Sky and BT have agreed to jointly pay £84.3 million for delayed television rights to 242 games (that is the right to broadcast them in full on television and over the internet) in most cases for a period of 50 hours after 10 pm on matchday. Overseas television rights fetched £625 million, nearly double the previous contract. The total raised from these deals is more than £2.7 billion, giving Premier League clubs an average media income from league games of £45 million a year from 2007 to 2010. They also receive smaller amounts from media rights for the domestic cups and in some cases substantial amounts from media rights for European matches.

The TV rights agreement between the Premier League and Sky has faced accusations of being a cartel, and a number of court cases have arisen as a result. An investigation by the Office of Fair Trading in 2002 found BSkyB to be dominant within the pay TV sports market, but concluded that there were insufficient grounds for the claim that BSkyB had abused its dominant position. In July 1999 the Premier League's method of selling rights collectively for all member clubs was investigated by the UK Restrictive Practices Court, who concluded that the agreement was not contrary to the public interest.

Worldwide

Promoted as "The Greatest Show On Earth", the Premier League is the world's most popular and most watched sporting league, followed worldwide by over half a billion people in 202 countries, generally on networks owned and/or controlled by NewsCorp or Setanta Sports, who also own the UK and Ireland match broadcasters. In the United States coverage is shared between Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports North America; NewsCorp sometimes buys pitch-side advertising boards with the Fox Soccer Channel logo replacing that of Sky.

The Premier League is particularly popular in Asia, where it is the most widely distributed sports programme. For example, in the People's Republic of China, matches attract television audiences between 100 million and 360 million, more than any other foreign sport. Due to this popularity, the league has held three pre-season tournaments in Asia, the only Premier League affiliated tournaments ever to have been held outside England. In July 2003, the FA Premier League Asia Cup was held in Malaysia, featuring three Premier League clubs, Chelsea, Newcastle United and Birmingham City, and the Malaysia national team. In 2005 the Asia Trophy featured a similar format, held in Thailand and featuring the Thailand national team competing against three English clubs—Everton, Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers, the last of which won the trophy. In 2007, the Barclays Asia Trophy was held in Hong Kong and featured Liverpool, Portsmouth, Fulham and the Hong Kong FA Cup winning team, South China, with Portsmouth winning the competition.

The FA has faced difficulty fighting internet copyright infringement. In an effort to stop the broadcasting of streams of live games on the net they have hired NetResult, a company that specialises on protecting trademark rights online.

Criticisms

Widening gap between lower leagues

One of the main criticisms levelled at the Premier League is the increasing gulf between the Premier League and the Football League. Since its split with the Football League, many established clubs in the Premier League have managed to distance themselves from their counterparts in lower leagues. Owing in large part to the disparity in revenue from television rights between the leagues, many newly promoted teams have found it difficult to avoid relegation in their first season in the Premier League. In every season except 2001–02 (Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Fulham) at least one Premier League newcomer has been relegated back to the Football League. In 1997–98 all three promoted clubs were relegated at the end of the season.

The Premier League distributes a small portion of its television revenue to clubs that are relegated from the league in the form of "parachute payments". Starting with the 2006–07 season, these payments are in the amount of £6.5 million over the club's first two seasons in lower leagues, although this rose to £11.2 million per year for clubs relegated in 2007–2008. Designed to help teams adjust to the loss of television revenues (the average Premier League team receives £45 million while the average Football League Championship club receives £1 million), critics maintain that the payments actually widen the gap between teams that have reached the Premier League and those that have not, leading to the common occurrence of teams "bouncing back" soon after their relegation.

"Big Four" dominance

Another major criticism is the development of the so-called "Big Four" clubs. Since Blackburn Rovers lifted the trophy in 1994–95, only three clubs have won the Premier League title—Manchester United (eight of the club's ten titles), Arsenal (three times) and Chelsea (twice). In addition, Manchester United have not finished outside the top three since the formation of the Premier League, with Arsenal finishing inside the top five in all but two seasons, while Liverpool, without an English league title since the pre-Premier League era, have not finished lower than fifth since 1999. In recent years, the success of these clubs has led to these four teams being increasingly referred to as the "Big Four". The Big Four clubs have finished in the first four positions for the last three seasons, therefore they have all qualified for the last three seasons of the Champions League and receive the financial benefits of such qualification. The benefits, especially increased revenue, is believed to have widened the gap between the Big Four clubs and the rest of the Premier League. In May 2008, Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan said the Big Four's dominance threatened the division, saying, "This league is in danger of becoming one of the most boring but great leagues in the world. Following Keegan's comments, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore defended the league, saying, "There are a lot of different tussles that go on in the Premier League depending on whether you're at the top, in the middle or at the bottom that make it interesting.

Influence on the global game

Nigerian football officials have claimed the increase in popularity of the Premier League and subsequent world wide media coverage is having a damaging effect on the national leagues of other footballing countries, with Nigeria being a recent example, citing lower domestic attendances when games clash with Premier League fixtures, and the drain of young talent being lured to the Premier League by wage offers no local club can hope to match. On the other hand, one could also argue that the money that comes into these clubs paid for their footballing exports, and the inspirational effect of watching the Premier League on local desire for playing football, is of local benefit. In an extreme case of worldwide influence, after the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final, seven people died in Nigeria after clashes between rival supporters of Chelsea and Manchester United.

Miscellany

Trophy

The current Premier League trophy was created by Royal Jewellers Asprey of London. It weighs , and is tall, wide and deep. Its main body is solid sterling silver and silver gilt, while its plinth is made of malachite, a semi-precious stone. The plinth has a silver band around its circumference, upon which the names of the title-winning clubs are listed. Malachite's green colour is also representative of the green field of play. The design of the trophy is based on the heraldry of FA crest.png that is associated with English football. Two of the lions are found above the handles on either side of the trophy—the third is symbolised by the captain of the title winning team as he raises the trophy, and its gold crown, above his head at the end of the season. The trophy has borne several names on its face since it was first created, when it read "The F.A. Premier League". The one Manchester United lifted in 2006–07 read "The Barclays Premiership", while the 2007–08 trophy simply read "Premier League". From the 2008–09 season onwards, the trophy will read "Barclays Premier League".

Match balls

For the inaugural season of the Premier League, clubs were obliged to supply their own match balls, which were usually provided by the clubs' kit manufacturers. In 1993, the Premier League came to an agreement with Mitre for them to supply the league's teams with their match balls. Mitre supplied balls to the Premier League for seven years, starting with the Mitre Pro Max (1993-1995) and then the Mitre Ultimax (1995-2000).

The 2000–01 season saw Nike take over as match ball supplier, introducing the Nike Geo Merlin ball, which had been used in the UEFA Champions League. The Geo Merlin was used for four seasons before being replaced by the Nike Total 90 Aerow, which ran for another two seasons. The 2004–05 season also saw the introduction of a yellow "Hi-Vis" ball for use in the winter months. Next came the Nike Total 90 Aerow II, which featured an asymmetrical design to help goalkeepers to judge the flight of the ball. Most recently, as of the 2008–09 season, the official ball of the Premier League is the Nike Total 90 Omni, which features yet another pattern in dark red and yellow and a modified panel design.

Premier League clubs

A total of 42 clubs have played in the Premier League from its inception in 1992 and the end of the 2008–09 season. Two other clubs (Luton Town and Notts County) were signatories to the original agreement that created the Premier League, but were relegated prior to the inaugural Premier League season and have not subsequently returned to the top flight. For a list of all clubs past and present see List of FA Premier League clubs and an amalgamated table can be found at All-time FA Premier League table. For a list of winners and runners-up of the Premier League since its inception, and top scorers for each season, see English football champions.

Seven clubs have been members of the Premier League for every season since its inception. This group is composed of Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur.

Premier League members for 2008–09

The following 20 clubs will compete in the Premier League during the 2008–09 season.

Club
Position
in 2007–08
First season in
top division
Number of seasons
in top division
First season of
current spell in
top division
Top division
titles
Last title
Arsenala,b,c 3rd 1904–05 92 1919–20 13 2003–04
Aston Villaa,b,c 6th 1888–89 98 1988–89 7 1980–81
Blackburn Roversa 7th 1888–89 69 2001–02 3 1994–95
Bolton Wanderers 16th 1888–89 70 2001–02 0 n/a
Chelseaa,b,c 2nd 1907–08 74 1989–90 3 2005–06
Evertona,b,c 5th 1888–89 106 1954–55 9 1986–87
Fulhamc 17th 1949–50 20 2001–02 0 n/a
Hull Cityc 3rd; Championship 2008–09 1 2008–09 0 n/a
Liverpoola,b,c 4th 1894–95 94 1962–63 18 1989–90
Manchester Citya 9th 1899–1900 80 2002–03 2 1967–68
Manchester Uniteda,b,c 1st 1892–93 84 1975–76 17 2007–08
Middlesbrougha 13th 1902–03 60 1998–99 0 n/a
Newcastle Unitedc 12th 1898–99 79 1993–94 4 1926–27
Portsmouthc 8th 1927–28 32 2003–04 2 1949–50
Stoke Cityc 2nd; Championship 1888–89 53 2008–09 0 n/a
Sunderland 15th 1890–91 78 2007–08 6 1935–36
Tottenham Hotspura,b,c 11th 1909–10 74 1978–79 2 1960–61
West Bromwich Albion 1st; Championship 1888–89 72 2008–09 1 1919–20
West Ham United 10th 1923–24 52 2005–06 0 n/a
Wigan Athleticc 14th 2005–06 4 2005–06 0 n/a
a = Founding member of the Premier League
b = Played in every Premier League season
c = Never been relegated from Premier League

Players

Premier League clubs have almost complete freedom to sign whatever number and category of players they wish. There is no team or individual salary cap, no squad size limit, no age restrictions other than those applied by general employment law, no restrictions on the overall number of foreign players, and few restrictions on individual foreign players — all players with EU nationality, including those able to claim an EU passport through a parent or grandparent, are eligible to play, and top players from outside the EU are able to obtain UK work permits. The only area where the Premier League's player registration rules are more restrictive than those of some other football leagues, such as those of those of Belgium and Portugal, is that academy level non-EU players have little access to English football by law. Also, clubs competing in the Champions League or UEFA Cup must comply with UEFA's player-eligibility rules for those competitions.

At the inception of the Premier League in 1992–93, just eleven players named in the starting line-ups for the first round of matches were 'foreign' (players hailing from outside of the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland). By 2000–01, the number of foreign players participating in the Premier League was 36%. In the 2004–05 season the figure had increased to 45%. On 26 December 1999, Chelsea became the first Premier League side to field an entirely foreign starting line-up, and on 14 February 2005 Arsenal were the first to name a completely foreign 16-man squad for a match. No English manager has won the Premier League; the four managers to have won the title comprise two Scots (Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United, ten wins) and Kenny Dalglish (Blackburn Rovers, one win)), a Frenchman (Arsène Wenger, Arsenal, three wins) and a Portuguese (José Mourinho, Chelsea, two wins).

In response to concerns that clubs were increasingly passing over young British players in favour of signing less-expensive foreign players, in 1999, the Home Office tightened its rules for granting work permits to players from countries outside of the European Union. Currently a non-EU player applying for the permit must have played for his country in at least 75% of its competitive 'A' team matches for which he was available for selection during the previous two years, and his country must have averaged at least 70th place in the official FIFA world rankings over the previous two years. If a player does not meet those criteria, the club wishing to sign him may appeal if they believe that he is a special talent and "able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in the UK."

Over 260 foreign players compete in the league, and 101 players from England's domestic leagues competed in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan. At the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, the Premier League was the most represented league with more than eighty players in the competition, including 21 of the 23 players in England's squad.

As a result of the increasingly lucrative television deals, player wages rose sharply following the formation of the Premier League. In the first Premier League season the average player wage was £75,000 per year, but subsequently rose by an average 20% per year for a decade, peaking in the 2003–04 season, when the annual salary of the average Premier League player was £676,000.

The record transfer fee for a Premier League has been broken several times over the lifetime of the competition. Prior to the start of the first Premier League season Alan Shearer became the first British player to command a £3 million-plus transfer fee. The record rose steadily in the Premier League's first few seasons, until Alan Shearer made a world record breaking £15 million move to Newcastle United in 1996. This stood as a British record for four years until it was eclipsed by the £18 million Leeds paid West Ham for Rio Ferdinand. Manchester United subsequently broke the record three times by signing Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastián Verón and Rio Ferdinand. Chelsea broke the record in May 2006, when they signed Andriy Shevchenko, from AC Milan. The exact figure of the transfer fee was not disclosed, but was reported as being around £30 million. This was eclipsed by Manchester City's transfer of Robinho from Real Madrid on 1 September 2008 for £32.5 million.

Gary Speed holds the record for the most Premier League appearances, having played 535 games, ahead of David James who has made 517 appearances most recently with Portsmouth.

Top scorers

(Premier League goals only)
All-time top scorers in the Premier League
Rank Player Goals
1 Alan Shearer 260
2 Andrew Cole 187
3 Thierry Henry 174
4 Robbie Fowler 161
5 Les Ferdinand 150
6 Teddy Sheringham 147
7 Michael Owen 139
8 Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink 128
9 Dwight Yorke 123
10 Ian Wright 113
As of 3 October 2008 (Bold denotes players still in Premier League), (Italics denotes players still playing professional football).

Players in the Premier League can compete for the informal competitions of Goal of the Month and Goal of the Season. Other titles players compete for include the top-scorer for a season. Former Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United striker Alan Shearer holds the record for most Premier League goals with 260. Shearer finished among the top ten goal scorers in 10 out of his 14 seasons in the Premier League and won the top scorer title three times. During the 1995–96 season he became the first player to score 100 Premier League goals.

Since the first Premier League season in 1992–93, 13 different players have won or shared the top scorers title. Thierry Henry won his third consecutive and fourth overall scoring title by scoring 27 goals in the 2005–06 season. This surpassed Shearer's mark of three titles which he won consecutively from 1994–95 through 1996–97. Other multiple winners include Michael Owen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who have won two titles each. Andrew Cole and Alan Shearer hold the record for most goals in a season (34) - for Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers respectively. Cole's record came in the 1993–94 season, while Shearer's came in 1994–95, both of which were 42-game seasons. Shearer's mark of 31 goals from a 38-game season in 1995–96 was equalled in the 2007–08 season by Cristiano Ronaldo, a mark which surpassed the record of most goals by a midfielder in a season.

Manchester United became the first team to have scored 1,000 goals in this league after Cristiano Ronaldo scored, in a 4–1 defeat by Middlesbrough, in the 2005–06 season, having been the first team to have conceded a Premier League goal following the League's inception. Arsenal are the only other team to have reached the 1,000 goal mark. The highest-scoring match to date in the Premier League occurred on 29 September 2007 when Portsmouth defeated Reading 7–4.

Only two players have scored in all 16 Premier League seasons, Sheffield United player Gary Speed and Manchester United veteran Ryan Giggs, both former captains of the Wales national football team.

Women's Premier League

The National Division of the FA Women's Premier League is the Premier League's female counterpart. Most of its clubs are affiliated with Premier League and Football League sides; however, teams are semi-professional; no professional teams have existed since Fulham returned to semi-pro status in 2003. The league comprises 12 clubs, operating a system of promotion and relegation with the Northern Division and Southern Division. The champions of each are promoted to the National Division, and the bottom two National Division clubs are relegated.

Since forming in 1993 the Women's Premier League has been dominated by Arsenal, who have won nine of the fifteen league titles. The women's game has a much lower profile than that of the Premier League, with Women's Premier League teams typically playing matches at grounds owned by non-league men's clubs.

References

External links

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