A reality check for the Premier League?

Manchester city players after going out of the Champions LeagueIn light of Chelsea and Manchester City‘s struggle in this season’s Champions League group stages, Arsene Wenger claims the Premier League remains the best league in the world, but warns that the rest of Europe is closing the gap.

The Arsenal manager puts that down to the Premier League’s glittering attraction and that English clubs have the power to sign whoever they want, but he questions how long that will last if the Premier League’s elite continue to struggle in Europe.

“I’d still say England is the strongest, because in England if they want a player they get him, still. As long as that happens you will be the most powerful in Europe. Are we the best in Europe? That’s another question,” he said.

Very well put, Mr. Wenger, because although the current European champions are English, that doesn’t particularly mean they were the best side in the competition last season. And that is showing this season with what many would call a stronger squad.

Wenger’s words are intriguing and have raised an issue that people would have described as unthinkable only a few years ago. The rapid emergence of the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Malaga and  Shakhtar Donetsk should have the Premier League’s elite shaking in their boots.

Gone are the days when England’s four representatives in the Champions League were all but guaranteed to progress to the knock-out stages and we might have to wait a while before we see a repeat of having four English clubs in the semi-finals of the competition.

But why is that? The Premier League may be attracting the world’s top players but if they cannot perform on Europe’s stage then they will have problems, which Manchester City and Chelsea have found out this season. Also, it seems that   complacency may be a factor, combined with the sheer surprise that the rest of Europe’s clubs should not be taken for granted.

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Furthermore, the way football is coached and the way clubs are run in this country seems to be lagging way behind the rest of Europe, which is something Wenger also pointed out.

He particularly singles out the Bundesliga as a league that is going about things the right way, and Germany’s top-flight has been rewarded with Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Schalke all qualifying from their respective groups with a game to spare.

Wenger said of the way German football works:  “They manage clubs like they should be managed, the whole system is different in Germany. You cannot own a club like you can in England. So the complete ownership is different because the clubs are owned 50 per cent by the fans. That’s a completely different model. That’s why they manage like any other business. They don’t spend the money they don’t have.”

That makes you wonder whether spending large amounts of money on big names is actually worth it in the long run. For example, Dortmund spent around £22 million in the summer while the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea spent £54 million and £89 million respectively. Doesn’t that say something about the difference in the way clubs in England view their transfer policies compared to the rest of Europe? Dortmund outplayed a Manchester City side worth well over £300 million earlier in the group and I wonder how many would put it past them to do it again at the BVB Stadion on December 4.

Wenger’s Arsenal have taken a different approach to things compared to the rest of the Premier League’s top clubs, and they have been rewarded with a 13th consecutive season in the Champions League’s knock-out stages. So, before anyone criticises Wenger and Arsenal for not spending money, just look at how well they have done in Europe under that model, even if they haven’t won any silverware in the last seven years.

The biggest fear, though, is that if English clubs continue to struggle in the group stage of the Champions League and if at least one club every season fails to qualify for the knock-out stages, UEFA will be forced into considering taking one of the Premier League’s qualification slots away, which would be a disaster for the league.

That is, of course, an extreme case, but one that should not be brushed aside and forgotten about. The Premier League might be able to attract the best players at the moment but, if the future of English clubs in the Champions League becomes uncertain, so could its title as the best league in the world.

Does Arsene Wenger has a point? Is Chelsea and Manchester City’s struggle in the Champions League a cause for concern for the Premier League? Or do you think the Premier League will always be a bigger attraction for the world’s best players? Let us know by commenting below.


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