The English Premier League kicked off its very first season in August 1992. The inaugural season was very memorable as is it kickstarted the juggernaut that we know now as the Premier League and is seen by many as the best domestic football competition in the world.
Twenty-two teams contested that first Premier League season in a 42-match season. Manchester United lifted the title, their eighth, with Aston Villa and Norwich City coming second and third, respectively.
In 1995, the league was reduced to 20 teams to accommodate the re-branded UEFA Champions League. Due to more teams competing in the Champions League and international matches, it was necessary for the Premier League to reduce its number of teams and matches.
However, the Premier League was supposed to be a maximum of 18 teams as further reductions would also reduce the number of matches per season to just 34. However, the league declined to continue its team reductions as per UEFA’s asking.
The Bundesliga is the only one of Europe’s top five leagues to feature fewer than 20 teams.
There are some strong arguments to why the Premier League would look good as an 18 team league. Let us explore some reasons for reducing the Premier League to 18 teams and 34 matches.
A Premier League with 18 teams
On paper, fewer teams and players in the top flight would improve the competition in the league. By lowering the number of players in the Premier League, there are fewer spaces in squads which in turn increases the competition to play for the league’s clubs.
Athletes must compete against the best competition to become the best. A league with a concentrated number of teams and top players competing against one another raises the overall quality. Add in the fact that the Premier League attracts many of the best players already due to the amount of money on offer and the quality should get even better.
Better European campaigns and international tournament performance
It seems funny to use this as part of the argument for an 18 team league since Liverpool and Chelsea won European silverware last season, but four fewer league games would theoretically keep players rested. With four fewer league matches, players will be less fatigued and injuries would be limited.
In terms of international football, which seems to increase every year, players would be less injured and fatigued for competitions. Imagine the World Cup or European Championship being better than ever due to stars such as Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah, and Sergio Aguero all being fit and performing to their full potential. Fewer matches and the concentration of talent can all enable these stars to excel.
Why an 18 team league won’t happen
There is no chance we will see an 18 team league and the reasons are obvious. The main reason is due to the money that streams into the Premier League. Television money is at its highest ever and reducing the league by two teams means a reduction of matches and hits the Premier League’s bottom line.
In addition, fewer teams would mean the Premier League season would need restructuring. Teams could finally get a winter break in the English top flight. The idea of a winter break for teams, like in the Bundesliga, has long been fought by clubs and fans.
Not only is it tradition for football to be played over the Christmas period, but it is a time when clubs can make money from live gates. Add in the televised football shown around the world and the money it brings in, and an 18 team league is simply not going to happen.
Would an 18 team structure work and make the Premier League more exciting? Theoretically, it would; however, we will never find out if it could truly succeed.