Leading The New Age Photo: courtesy of FC Barcelona
The reign of terror is over. After years of dominating the later stages of the Champions League it appears that the Premier League stranglehold over the competition is coming to an end.
With Manchester City unlikely to progress and struggling Chelsea now facing a daunting final game against Valencia, there is a real possibility that only two English clubs will stumble through to the knockout stages of Europe’s premier club competition. Such an unlikely event has not occurred since the competition’s later stages were reorganised in 2002.
So what has gone wrong? The Premiership is constantly heralded (by Sky) as the greatest league in the world, showcasing the best players, managers and matches.
And it appears the league has become complacent in it’s own hype.
The traditional European powerhouses of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have all seen their squads decline in recent years. Cesc Fabregas and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of the most notable casualties of this talent exodus, both preferring to ply their trade in the warmer and less frenetic climate of Spain. Debutants Man City have failed to transfer their historic league form to Europe, with their array of superstars struggling to gain traction against seasoned European campaigners. Arsenal and Man United have both replenished their line-ups with youngsters, who are inexperienced and often ill prepared for the challenges continental teams possess. Chelsea face the opposite problem, with the spine of their team creaking from years of exertion and firmly past their Mourinho prime.
The very nature of the Premiership itself has contributed to the problem. League campaigns have descended into wars of attrition, with the physicality of constant domestic battles sapping both strength and desire for foreign adventures. Key players are often rested in midweek group-stage games, with Chelsea and Man United’s patchy form testament to the dangers of such a strategy.
This brutality has also inhabited their style of play (perhaps excluding Arsene Wenger’s expansive philosophy) with results taking precedence over skill. Thus, when facing the patience of a Spanish attack or the rigour of an Italian defence, English teams are increasingly finding themselves unable to adapt and overcome as they once did.
The story of football is one of rise and fall. Whilst the Premiership hardly resembles the last days of Constantine’s Rome it does need to reassess its strength. Spain, the reigning World and European champions, now possess the world’s finest league and in Real Madrid and Barcelona contain the red-hot favourites for the Champions League. The English have learnt the hard lesson that it’s easier to get to the top in football than stay there.