The more romantic football fans have always been able to find a touch of glamour or a cult hero somewhere in the game.
Whether it be the class of the likes of Glenn Hoddle amidst the tough tackles and muddy pitches of the old First Division, or whether it be the foreign leagues filled with players from all over the world, you can always find something.
For me, growing up in the 90s, it was Football Italia. The ‘AC Jimbo’ presented, pun-filled, glamour fuelled English-speaking coverage of Italy’s Serie A.
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At a time when Italy’s league boasted players like Gazza and Paul Ince as well as Gianluca Vialli, Christian Vieri, Hernan Crespo and the ‘original’ Ronaldo, Serie A was on top of the world as far as domestic leagues were concerned.
In Europe too, Italy was king – or nearly. Although you’ll only find two Italian sides lifting the Champions League / European Cup trophy in the 90s, there was an Italian side in the final of the competition every year from 1991 to 1998.
But the most interesting part of that period of Italian football was, at least for me, the players in the sides. Every team had a star of some sort, it wasn’t just the big guns who had fairly big players. Clubs like Parma – bankrolled, as it turned out, by some dodgy dealings on the part of their owner – were able to attract big stars, or at least the promising players who could turn into big stars.
Gianfranco Zola, Faustino Asprilla, Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, Gianluigi Buffon, huge names playing for a club who were used to languishing in the third tier for most of their existence before the 90s.
There were, of course, nowhere near the riches present in Serie A in the 90s that there are in the Premier League nowadays. But there was, at least, some sort of financial influence amongst those clubs that wasn’t the case in the other leagues. That raised the standard of football, and everyone wanted to play there. Just like the Premier League now, it seems.
With the money available in the Premier League, and of course, the standard of football and the stars already present, it’s clear that players want to play in the Premier League. And they’ll go to fairly great lengths to make it.
As with Serie A in the 90s, nearly every team has some sort of star. Obviously the top teams are choc-full of them, but the new arrival of teams such as Crystal Palace and Stoke City near the top of the table shows the pulling-power of the Premier League.
When Yohan Cabaye can join up with Crystal Palace, Dimitri Payet with West Ham, even Andre Ayew with Swansea, the Premier League is such a draw for these players that they’ll consider playing with the traditionally unfashionable clubs (or at least unfashionable over the last 20 years).
Then there’s Stoke City, a club who are becoming fashionable in some way too. Their manager has instilled a passing element to their game, they seem like a fun team to watch, and they are the team in the league with the most Champions League winners. All in all, if you had claimed that four or five years ago, you’d have been ridiculed. And with good reason.
The romantics among the footballing fraternity these days must be looking to the Premier League. Year on year it’s the same teams involved in Spain and Italy and Germany, but in England things are changing a bit.
It’ll still be the same four of five teams battling it out for the title, but with the race for the top four more open this season than it has ever been, times seem to be changing. And when every team in the league has the money to outbid most other teams in Europe – Burnley’s season in the top flight made them richer than Ajax.
The Premier League has the riches and the glamour to attract most players anyway, but the fact that it’s so open, and that even the unfashionable clubs can point to a bright future with some fantastic technical players means that the Premier League can be the destination not just for fans looking for fast-paced football, but for romantic fans looking for an underdog tale and a wealth of technical football, too.
The Premier League can be Serie A in its pomp.