Not since 1995 have England not had a representative in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and with Chelsea and Arsenal both on the verge of being knocked out by Italian opposition, and the two Manchester sides failing to come through the group stages, it seems the year of 1995 will be repeated. Is English football losing its self proclaimed title of the ‘world’s greatest’ league?
In recent years, the Premier League has dominated the Champions League latter stages, from 2007-2009, three of the four semi-finalists were English based clubs, while Manchester United have reached three of the four previous finals, winning one (against Chelsea in 2008).
Despite this, English teams have made up only two of the winners in the past 10 years, (Liverpool in 2005 and Manchester United in 2008), this is less than Italy who have three (AC Milan 2003 and 2007 and Inter Milan in 2010), and Spain who lead the way with four (Real Madrid in 2002 and Barcelona in 2006, 2009 and 2011).
The Premier League is always billed as the greatest league in the world, mainly because it’s not as slow as Italian football, it’s not a two horse race like Spanish football and more people around the world are interested in the Premier League.
All of these are true, but does that make the Premier League the best? Certainly it’s the richest, but the counter-attacking football played by the Italians is certainly easy on the eye, and as Chelsea and Arsenal found out, very difficult to play against and the passing football played by Barcelona is arguably the greatest of all time. La Liga may be a two horse race, but the way television money works means it is virtually impossible for another team to break the strangle hold of Barcelona and Madrid dominance, even Malaga who have a rich owner have hardly threatened to make a title challenge.
But the proof is in the pudding, despite English clubs progressing into the latter stages, they are trailing their Italian and Spanish counter parts in the winner’s category. It’s also worth pointing out that both Italy and Spain have won the World Cup in the last ten years (and European Championship for Spain), while England haven’t even looked like being serious contenders for the crown.
Each of the English teams have their reasons for their poor showing in this years elite competition, Manchester City can claim they are concentrating on winning the Premier-League, with the Champions League coming later on in their plans for football domination. Manchester United has hardly strengthened their squad since the loss of Ronaldo and the retirement of Scholes proved how they missed a midfielder with guile and class.
Chelsea seem to be a club in transition which is taking a bumpy track, with constant reports of player revolts and Arsenal have lost Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas and replaced them with Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benyayoun, so when they was outclassed at the San Siro it was hardly a surprise.
Being the richest league in the world doesn’t necessarily make it the strongest as the list of winners show, and while English clubs may be able to attract big name players the biggest ones are choosing to ply their trade outside of the UK. Sky have been able to take the Premier League to audiences far and wide, but the truth is English football isn’t as strong as Sky would like to think it is.