This UEFA Champions League quarter-final stage is the first campaign in which a British or English team has not featured in since 1996. Many journalists suggesting the Premier League has been nullified by leagues in Spain and Germany. Many more journalists suggesting the British teams are not as good as previous seasons. All absolute rubbish. This season has been one of the best exhibits of the Premier League since Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo were in it. It all boils down to two simple facts: too many foreign imports and lack of competitiveness in teams.
You may be reading and thinking, “lack of competitiveness?! Are you kidding me?” I was very quick to criticise Manchester City in their torrid attempt to leave the group stage and rightfully so. They are English Champions and with that comes a certain responsibility. A certain fulfillment to fill on behalf of the British people. In past seasons when Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea have won the Premier League the following season they saw knockout qualification as instinct. As something that was so easy they could do it in their sleep. Now, City fans will be quick to say “oh we had a tough group”. Once again, it’s a sorry excuse for a club that has spent over £1bn on some of the best talents in the past 5 years. When watching the European games, this season and last, City seemed like they were lost and had all of a sudden lost their bearings. To add to their miseries they didn’t even qualify for the boring Europa League. The Etihad Stadium barely had an atmosphere, the players seemed bored and the manager didn’t seem that bothered. All of this from the English Champions in the most coveted prize in club football; disgraceful to say the least.
Compare that to Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea’s Champions League past. On regular European nights the United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool faithful, would make their ground a lions’ den, irrespective of knockout stage or first group stage game Chelsea’s first participation in the competition came in 1999-2000 season and Stamford Bridge was rocking. Chelsea qualified from ‘group-stage one’ of the group stages then only to qualify again from ‘group-stage two’ both of which with relatively tough opposition. From AC Milan to Lazio, Chelsea made it through to the quarter finals in which they faced giants Barcelona. They didn’t disappoint either, beating them 3-1 at Stamford Bridge only to be ceremoniously obliterated at the Nou Camp 5-1, to finish the tie 6-4 on aggregate to Barcelona. Arsenal’s continued appearance in the last 16 stage is something for English football to be proud of; 10 seasons they haven’t failed to reach the last 16 stage. However, there seems to be something wrong at the moment with English teams. It’s hit a road-bump and the wheels have all of a sudden come off.
It was the year 2008 and English football was dominating Europe. All four English representatives had made it to the quarter-finals and all seemed dandy for an all English semi-final and subsequent final, when Liverpool and Arsenal crossed paths. There isn’t much space for ifs and buts in football but that season was an exception. What if Chelsea didn’t sack Mourinho? What if Liverpool and Arsenal hadn’t met in the quarters? What if Ronaldo was injured? English football was at it’s pinnacle. Best managers in the world. Best players in the world. Most importantly, best teams in the world. From Sir Alex to Arsene, to from Torres to Ronaldo, the Premier League was simply the best.
Not only did these teams have excellent foreign imports but they also had the very best English players. Wayne Rooney (United), Paul Scholes (United), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), John Terry (Chelsea), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Theo Walcott (Arsenal). Just a select few. Managers were finding the right balance with foreign players and homegrown players. This is a serious contributing factor in recent failures of our English teams in Europe’s elite. We look at Barcelona’s first XI and we see a sea of Spanish contingent. Same can be said about Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and even Galatasaray. Galatasaray have only 9 foreign players from a 27-man squad! Their main man, Buruk Yilmaz is joint top-scorer with Cristiano Ronaldo in this current Champions League campaign. It’s not an attack on the foreign players but it’s the way they conduct themselves.The FA Cup has to be rightfully injected into their veins by the homegrown players. It’s not an act of ignorance by the foreign players but a victim of cultural difference.
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Chelsea’s spirit from last year’s campaign can be motivation for Premier League representation next season but so can their pathetic excuse to retain it. The Premier League is still the best league in the world and will continue to be for many years to come but if it does not sort it’s act out on the European stage it could well and truly be taken over by our German and Spanish friends for they have achieved step one: knock out the English. To think this years final is at Wembley Stadium and not even one British team will be there is a very very tough pill to swallow.
British teams, that includes Scotland, have won a total of 13 European and Champions League titles and have been runners-up on 8 occasions. We’ve had 5 different teams from England win it and only Celtic win it for Scotland. Not other country compares to that final statistic. Something sparks in English football, something magical that no other country has, a different level of brotherhood, a different level of fight. These need to be found, otherwise English football will be sorely left behind.