Salford City, Leyton Orient and Barnet: Who are the National League’s ‘big six’?
By Will Evans, Football Whispers
Last Updated: 28/09/18 2:14pm
Do non-league clubs have Premier League equivalents? We look at the National League sides who have more in common with the 'big six' than you might think…
There are undoubted similarities between some clubs in the world of football - from the vociferous fans of Boca Juniors and Galatasaray to the oil rich big spenders of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.
Liverpool and Celtic are both famed for their atmospheric European nights, while Bayern Munich and Olympiakos share similarities in terms of domestic dominance.
But do non-league clubs have Premier League equivalents? We take a look...
Salford City - the Manchester City of the fifth tier?
An abundance of money and a lack of elite history are two qualities often associated with Manchester City. The Sky Blues are largely owned by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour, who has bankrolled the club to three Premier League titles since purchasing City in 2008.
Pep Guardiola's team will most likely go on to conquer Europe with their unprecedented wealth, but had only won the top flight on two occasions before Mansour's takeover - securing the title in 1936/37 and again under Joe Mercer in 1967/68.
Salford City's history is similarly undecorated, having spent most of their existence in the lower reaches of the non-league game. But huge investment from Singaporean businessman Peter Lim and the 'Class of '92' (former Manchester United players Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes) has propelled them to the National League with three promotions in just four years.
Much like Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, there is surely more to come from this Salford team, and few will be surprised if they are an EFL club by the end of this season.
Are Leyton Orient the Liverpool of the National League?
Liverpool are a club synonymous with passionate fans and a rich and successful history. Jurgen Klopp's men are the team that everyone wants to watch at the moment, playing a scintillating brand of 'heavy metal football' in their iconic Anfield Stadium.
Leyton Orient might not be quite as glamorous as Liverpool, but they do share a surprising number of traits with the Premier League giants.
Justin Edinburgh's side are currently top of the National League and are unbeaten in all 13 matches this season. Much like Liverpool, the O's are the division's entertainers - their total of 27 goals is more than any other team in the fifth tier. Brisbane Road is also one of London's more atmospheric stadiums and the O's average attendance of over 4,500 is the second-highest in the National League.
Historical similarities abound too. Having spent 20 seasons in the top two divisions of English football between 1955 and 1982, Leyton Orient's recent demise has perhaps seen them playing below their natural level in the footballing pyramid. In that sense their fans will share the frustrations of the Liverpool faithful, who have been waiting to see their team win the top-flight title for over 28 years.
Falling below expectations - Manchester United and Chesterfield
On paper it feels somewhat harsh to be too critical of Jose Mourinho's Manchester United. The Red Devils have won the League Cup and the Europa League since the Portuguese manager took charge of the club in 2016, as well as qualifying for the Champions League with a second place finish last season.
Those achievements don't tell the whole story though - United have never really challenged for the title since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013 and finished 19 points behind Manchester City is the 2017-18 campaign.
When you throw Mourinho's negative tactics and public criticism of players into the mix, it's hard to ignore the feeling that Manchester United are a club falling short of the high standards they have set themselves over the past two decades.
That feeling will be all too familiar to Chesterfield supporters, who can scarcely believe that the Spirites are plying their trade in the fifth tier of English football. It was all so different back in 2014/15, when the club were on the brink of the Championship under the guidance of manager Paul Cook. But a play-off semi-final defeat to Preston North End resulted in Cook departing for Portsmouth, before two relegations in three seasons saw Chesterfield drop out of the EFL for the first time in their history.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the Spirites have struggled since falling through League Two's trapdoor - explosive coach Martin Allen has now overseen eight defeats and two draws in ten games, as the Derbyshire club teeter above the National League drop zone.
Much like United, Chesterfield are currently underachieving for a club of their size and status.
Chelsea and Barnet - Instability in the managerial hot seat
Chelsea fans can have few complaints since Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003. His time as owner has seen the Blues win a first ever Champions League trophy, five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups and the Europa League.
But there is a nagging sense of short-termism at Stanford Bridge, with an incredible turnover of managers at the west London club over the past 15 years. Eleven different coaches have sat in one of football's least forgiving dugouts during that time, with Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink both having two spells in charge of the Blues.
This chopping and changing of managers has led to inconsistency at Chelsea in the last few years - the club have won two titles but also finished outside the Champions League spots twice in the past four seasons.
Fellow Londoners Barnet have experienced a similarly turbulent recent history, dropping out of the EFL in 2012/13, winning the National League title in 2014/15, before again suffering relegation from League Two in 2017/18.
The Bees' turnover of coaches is even more incredible than the changes seen at Chelsea - 13 different permanent managers have sat in the dugouts of Underhill and The Hive in the same 15 year period, including a staggering five spells in charge for Martin 'Mad Dog' Allen.
Changing times - Arsenal and Dagenham & Redbridge
Arsenal were the definition of managerial stability until Arsene Wenger's departure this summer - the Frenchman had been in charge of the Gunners since 1996, presiding over a largely successful era that yielded ten major trophies in 22 years.
Now new head coach Unai Emery is the man tasked with bringing the Premier League title back to north London, with significantly fewer resources at his disposal than fellow challengers Chelsea and Manchester City.
There are strong parallels with National League side Dagenham & Redbridge in that regard. Daggers fans had experienced just two managers in the Victoria Road dugout since 2004 until this season - Wayne Burnett and John Still.
Still, 68, oversaw the most successful period of the Daggers' history; winning promotion to League Two before taking the club into League One via the fourth tier playoffs in 2010. Much like Arsenal, this summer saw a new manager appointed, with Peter Taylor replacing the Barnet-bound Still - he arrived in east London with the Daggers in the midst of a financial crisis and with little money available for incoming transfers.
A recent takeover has allayed any fears of the club going into administration, but it remains to be seen whether Taylor will have adequate funds to mount a promotion challenge in the coming seasons.
Slow and steady - Tottenham Hotspur and Sutton United
Mauricio Pochettino has been widely praised for keeping Tottenham Hotspur in the top four of the Premier League for three consecutive seasons, as a result of the financial limitations in place at White Hart Lane.
The combination of a restrictive wage structure and an impending stadium move have had a significant impact on the funds made available to the Argentine. He has navigated these choppy waters with aplomb in challenging times - developing youngsters like Harry Kane and Danny Rose, while improving bargain signings such as Son Heung-min and Eric Dier.
The real test for Spurs will be whether they can push on and challenge their bigger spending rivals for the title. While Pochettino's reign can undoubtedly be considered a success so far, the club are still yet to win a trophy since he has been in charge.
Sutton United are in a similar boat, under the steady guidance of long-term manager Paul Doswell. He has taken the club from the Isthmian Premier League to the National League since being appointed in 2008, but is now in the challenging position of trying to achieve promotion with significantly less money than a host of big spenders and ex-EFL teams.
Sutton's run to the FA Cup fifth round in 2016/17 has certainly helped swell the coffers at Ganders Green Lane, but it will be fascinating to see if Doswell can reach the fourth tier as one of the division's underdogs.
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