New Liverpool signing Daniel Sturridge this week claimed the Anfield club are not only the biggest club he had played for – his former employers being Chelsea and Manchester City – but the biggest club in the Premier League.
Predictably, this assertion engendered passionate response from a wide spectrum of Premier League supporters – from derision to what appeared to be genuine anger.
While it is probably best to not take his comments too seriously, Sturridge highlighted an interesting and debatable topic – what makes a big club and which can legitimately be called the biggest?
There are a number of gauges you can go by to measure this, but “big” is used so freely in football as to become almost intangible.
Fan base is often used as tool to highlight the size of a club and Liverpool certainly have a large one.
Social media has now become so ingrained in modern life that the numbers of people using its various forms can shine a little bit of light on a club’s popularity.
For instance, Liverpool have just under 1.5million followers on Twitter while Chelsea, the team Sturridge just departed, have amassed nearly 1.8million.
His other club and reigning Premier League champions have little over 600,000 followers, but it is Arsenal who lead the way in Twitter terms with over 2million following their tweets.
Manchester United do not currently run a Twitter account but they are certainly leading the way on the other widely used social media site, Facebook.
The Old Trafford club’s official site is ‘Liked’ by a staggering 30.4million users, which dwarfs the 15million Chelsea’s page is currently celebrating and the 12.5million liking the Arsenal equivalent.
Liverpool aren’t far behind this, having amassed just over 11million users but Tottenham are lagging behind with just over 1.5million.
Now, this cannot be the only way to measure their size because certain clubs’ social media strategies are far more advanced than others and clubs like Manchester City’s recent success is not matched by the size of their online fan base (4.3million Facebook likes) due to the transformative nature of getting new Billionaire owners.
As can be seen through City’s success, money is usually the biggest factor in determining success. It is easier to win trophies and prestige when you are able to produce hundreds of millions of pounds for new players.
However, Liverpool have also spent quite a lot of it in recent years but have found regular on-field success harder to come by.
Arsenal and Spurs spend very little compared to their close rivals yet have finished higher than Liverpool consistently in the past couple of years.
Chelsea were once considered a medium-sized London club before being bought by Roman Abramovich and have since won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a UEFA Champions League, thanks mainly to spending.
Chelsea and Manchester City’s case brings to the fore the question of past glories and ‘history’ as a determining factor in the size of one’s club.
Liverpool were once the dominant side in Europe and much of the acceptance of them being a big club since their last league title in 1990 has been rooted in this.
Manchester United fans’ recent glee in pointing out to their old rivals that they had surpassed them in total league titles won – 19, to be precise – said something about the perceived overtaking of the Merseyside club in terms of prestige.
The introduction of long past glories in the weighing up of a club’s current status is frustrating – how far back are you allowed to go?
You can speak of social media fans, shirt sales and history until you are blue in the face, but success on the pitch has always been the most important factor when it comes to a football club.
Perhaps it is just the use of the word ‘big’ that is misleading –all Liverpool’s fans around the world, big stadium and 18 titles have not been able to stop them slipping outside of the Champions League places in the Premier League in recent seasons.
Talk of ‘big’ clubs is futile when this talk is no longer backed up by performances on the pitch and is nothing more than a distraction.
All of Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal have outperformed Liverpool in the Premier League regularly in the past few years and their respective fans are probably happy for Sturridge to claim his new side are ‘bigger’ if the current situation persists.
There are many clubs plying their trade in the lower league that could once have called themselves ‘big’ clubs.
Footballing tradition is a boon to any club and is something that should be cherished, but it has no place in deciding where they finish in the league.
History, size of fans base, match day revenue, shirt sales and commercial deals are all things that go towards making a big club, but they are asides.
Talking of being ‘big’ means nothing, winning does.