Why the Premier League is losing its self proclaimed tag

Joe Hart Manchester City goalkeeper

How many times do the best teams in the Premier League need to get beaten by supposedly inferior opposition from abroad before we start questioning the merits of England’s top league? To suggest anything other than ‘the Premier League is best from where I’m sitting’ would seem like heresy, yet there is absolutely nothing to back up such a claim.

Do English football fans even know why the Premier League is the best in the world? I get the feeling that people are buying into a product without questioning it in the same way that people become ravenous, mindless, and I’m really tempted to say zombies, whenever the new iphone comes out. Do people really know why they want it or need it? But for some odd reason they continue to preach it’s worth and value over any product that is equal or even better.

Over the past few weeks, and even since the beginning of the season, more and more people are starting to take note of how ineffective English teams can be against foreign opposition. Pleasantly, albeit rather late, many football journalists are spotting this trend.

John Cross tweeted last week during the Champions League games about how impressed he was with the Bundesliga, and rightly so. That state of awe shouldn’t just stop at how well many of those teams play, but also how passionate and impressive their fans are. He then added to that statement by acknowledging that La Liga has technically superior players in comparison to England, but that the Premier League wins because of “entertainment, intensity, drama.”

I’m sorry, but what exactly are we watching here? Has the Premier League forgotten that it’s a sport and instead markets itself as something you’d normally pay to watch in a cinema? Drama? I suppose that’s a reference to moments such as Manchester City’s late title win last season. Late goals can be dramatic, yes, but it’s not central to the Premier League. James Horncastle wrote an article recently on the increase in late goals in Serie A. But I suppose that doesn’t quite do it, right? Serie A is no match for the Premier League on any front.

English football has become a league of who has the most money, and it’s not just a scrap between the clubs. Broadcasters do the same in their bids to secure rights to games, increasing their bids to no end because they know fans will continue to pay whatever the current extortionate prices are to watch a Premier League game at home.

But the games that have seen England’s very best crumble when faced against opponents from Spain or Germany, and even Holland last week, should prompt most to ask what we’re missing in the Premier League.

I’ve alluded to this before, but how can a team like Southampton score twice against both Manchester Clubs—the two best teams by quite a distance last season—and have those games be described as great sources of entertainment. Yet later in the week, we’re all questioning Manchester United’s lack of defensive options, the decline or Patrice Evra and also Roberto Mancini’s lack of commitment to one formation as the reason for such open games. Well which is it? Good entertainment with competition right through the league, or just two big teams who are going through a down period and are further exposed in Europe?

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There’s no competition in La Liga they say. Yes, except for the fact that Barcelona were given a very good game by Deportivo last week, escaping with a 5-4 win. That was entertaining. Or what about Real Madrid going to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and losing 1-0 to Sevilla. Or, and this one is the pick of the bunch, Atletico Madrid being the top dog in Madrid at the moment and leading the league table on joint 25 points with Barcelona. Sevilla have won the Uefa Cup/Europa League twice in the last 10 years. Atletico Madrid have done the same. This Barcelona team beat England’s very best more than convincingly on two occasions in the Champions League final. English teams have also done well in Europe, but at least I’m making reference to it.

The Premier League is full of overpaid pampered players who don’t know what to do when a very good football team comes up against them. Manchester City’s players have complained at their manager’s rotation of systems from four at the back to a three, citing difficulty in adapting. But seeing as many of City’s players are among the highest paid in the league, should it be too much to ask for them to alter their games to fit the manager’s instructions? There are no heroes here anymore.

The Premier League will remain king from the viewpoint of those in this country who have no desire to take it upon themselves to look elsewhere, while the majority will lap up whatever Sky or the leading journalists and newspapers tell them is worth following.

But its hugely embarrassing that journalists on the Sunday Supplement do not know how to pronounce Jakub Blaszczykowski, a prominent figure in the Dortmund team and the captain of Poland. And shouldn’t it be their duty to report on and encourage people in this country to take some form of interest in football from other nations? Italy, Spain and Germany produce better footballers than England could ever hope to have line up for them in an international tournament. Between 1999 and 2009, the Ballon d’Or winner has represented an Italian or Spanish team on nine of those 11 occasions, with the final two coming from England. And here’s the kicker: both of those England-based players went on to play in Spain.

English journalists have a duty to promote the game in Europe as much as they do in England. It would be shameful for a political journalist to dismiss the American Presidential race on the basis that we’re not American. In fact, I’m sure there would be outrage if the BBC or Sky skimmed over the topic briefly and then went on to recycle the same old news stories from Britain for the remainder of the week.

English fans, media and governing bodies are disgusted when we see or hear about racism, violence or even bribes in foreign leagues. Yet Premier League stands are on occasion rocking to the tune of vile songs about paedophiles, planes going down and people losing their lives in stadium disasters. What then gives England the right to point the finger at other countries when it can’t even get it’s own house in order?

We shouldn’t be too surprised that Chelsea have been properly turned over twice in European competition this season. And for those who were expecting an easy win against Atletico and Shakhtar, shame on you for not having some credible amount of knowledge on the game outside of this country.

English football is entertainment, as John Cross put it, but it’s not one that really fits in line with football entertainment. Football entertainment is seeing the very best players of this generation perform to levels so beyond what everyone else is capable of, that the real heresy is dismissing it as boring. In England, the price of entertainment is £100 tickets, referees who want to be bigger than the game, the over examination of a hand shake, broadcasters who manage to morph a big game in October into something of an epic title decider where there can be only one team standing. It’s just football, it’s just sport, yet many seem to be forgetting that.

A lot of WWE fans from 10-plus years ago have complained at the state of the product today. But the truth is there is nothing on television anymore that allows them to be so dangerously entertaining. Except maybe the Premier League.

Ajax’s win against Manchester City was fantastic for the game in Europe as much as it was for football. The Premier League needed to be brought down a notch. Again.

To reference Paul Hayward’s recent article for the Telegraph: the Premier League tanks are rumbling no more.


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