After a difficult week for English clubs in the competition they once dominated, many eyebrows have been raised. With only Arsenal through to the further echelons of the Champion’s league with only one match left, and the other three clubs in no certain position by any stretch of the imagination, many are questioning the strength of the English game in comparison to their European rivals. But as I see it, there is no need to worry.
In both the years of 2008 and 2009, English football had 3 teams in the semi finals of the Champion’s League- a “Battle of England” final in Moscow the highlight of an English chokehold on the European game. The largely English semi finals were encrusted with stellar names such as Ronaldo, Alonso and Fabregas- pundits and writers gushing as they finally had stone wall evidence to once and for all prove that The Premier Division of England was superior to rivals from Spain and other countries.
However players have moved on, and times have changed. The old might of Cheslea has turned into an increasingly aging Old Guard. As Terry, Lampard and Drogba stumble towards retirement, the old backbone of the three times semi finalists continues to creak and crack on Europe’s greatest stage. Although efficient and at times stunning domestically, United seem to have a gap, around 6 foot 1 and Portuguese in nature, in their team when it comes to breaking down far inferior teams, especially at home. As for rookies Manchester City, qualification looks a long shot as the players who have won all but one game in perhaps the most competitive Premier league ever, struggle to make their mark on continental teams. May it be due to inexperience of different atmospheres, systems or player styles, excuses fail to quash critics when such money has been spent.
As a result, for the powerhouses of this year’s competition, one would imagine that you need only look anywhere but the British Isles. However on closer and wider inspection, in fact not many have singled themselves out as clear cut contenders. The usual suspects of the Spanish league- including the two untouchable players of this generation, have collected 28 points from a possible 30. Experienced Germans Bayern Munich look assured as ever, treading an easy path to the last 16 despite belong landed in a tough group. Benfica of Portugal look slick, and even first timers Napoli look dangerous. However most of these teams are on the whole, diamonds in the rough, both within their groups and within their country as a whole. A quick look at the tables of this year’s competition shows that out of those teams who have accumulated formidable points totals, realistically Bayern Munich are the only one to have done so while competing against any more than one team that is anywhere near their level. Perhaps this makes the shaky start of the English Champions League bandwagon ever more distressing, as they fail to distinguish themselves as bigger fish within small ponds. However I feel that once the smaller teams are disposed of and the cream rise through the group stages, the complacency that has scarred recent results will surely be forced away. To use such results as a stain on The Premier Division’s reputation against other leagues is absurd.
To judge a league’s strength against others using only the results of a minority of teams is in my opinion ridiculous. Europe’s leagues must not be a show pony contest, but one of strength in depth, and competitiveness. Therefore I still see no equivalent to the Barclays Premier League. Indeed times and players have changed. Yes Ronaldo has become Ashley Young, Alonso has become Adam and Fabregas has become Arteta. Foreign imports have been sold on and replaced from within the Premier League, keeping the money in the country and allowing smaller clubs to grow once their fledglings get ‘promoted’ to bigger sides. As a result, an isolated but continentally successful 4 sides has become the most closely competitive league season the Premiership has ever seen as clubs continue to thrive off each other and grow. In terms of depth, our league is hands down the greatest in Europe. And as an Aston Villa fan becoming further and further distanced from European competition, I can see it only as an improvement, no matter what the ‘Big Four’s” results are overseas.
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