[Written in 2015/16 Season]
After a weekend of Premier League football, the English media has calmed down after the roller coaster of emotions following English teams through this season Champions League. As the dust settles, we can begin to look back and really make a decision on whether there is a divide in quality between English sides and the rest of Europe. I am left to wonder, what is so inherently different between us and the rest of Europe?
So, what is it that separates English sides to the rest of the competition? With another relatively quiet year in Europe for English teams, the same sides are dominating the competition. Regardless of the strength of Premier League teams, they just cannot seem to match those of the European powerhouses. Teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich are always the teams that are tipped to win the competition and the bookies are not wrong with three of the last four winners being one of these teams.
Is it European know-how that we lack? It hardly seems likely with European football veterans in the form of Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini who have a combined experience of 37 seasons of the competition. It cannot be the lack of knowledge from the managers. Is it the European experience of players? This is also highly unlikely with a league filled with European and Internationally experienced players who have spent years playing at the highest level.
So what is causing this lack of European success from English clubs? I personally feel that the likes of these big teams attract the biggest names in football. Whilst the Premier League is filled with players of immense quality and experience, the best players in the world play in these divisions. The majority of the German World Cup team play in Germany or the two big Spanish teams. The majority of Spain’s World Cup winners during their period of dominance play for either of the two Spanish clubs.
The Premier League is home to a plethora of football stars from all nations but it is not home to those who are the best in the world. When the UEFA team of the year is announced, it is largely made up of the players come from these teams. From the past 5 years (2010-2014) of UEFA Team of the Year’s 78% (43 of 55) of the players chosen have been from these 3 teams. This is not just a coincidence. These teams continue to sign the biggest and best players in world football. Whether this is for the big pay packet or the prestige for playing for arguably the best clubs to ever grace our great game.
As these teams continue to sign the best players in world football their teams will only get stronger. Therefore, the pool of footballs best players is immediately shrunk with the cream of the crop now gone. The Premier League is then left to pick up players who have had fantastic seasons, have won big tournaments in the past but have peaked and players who have been the best in their respective leagues but do not possess the quality to mix it in the Premier League.
The Premier League is then left with a distinctive and noticeable difference in quality compared to those big teams and it shows when the latter stages of the competition have been reached. In the last 5 seasons, Premier League teams have only got passed the Round of 16 on 6 out of 20 attempts. Of the successful 6, 3 were knocked out in the subsequent quarter final round, with 1 reaching a semi final and 2 reaching the final. Whilst many will consider this not bad reading, an English final appearance last came in 2011/12 and since has only reached a quarter final and semi final, highlighting how far off we have been in recent years.
It is clear to English fans that there is something that is holding back English teams in Europe. As you have read, my view is that English clubs are not attracting the truly biggest names in world football which is hampering their chances of European success. If the Premier League is dubbed as the best league in the world then this has not been the case over recent years. If it truly was the best then it would be the highest quality and the best players. If it truly was the best then Cristiano Ronaldo wouldn’t have left to join Madrid and Gareth Bale wouldn’t have followed suit. Simarly, Luis Suarez wouldn’t have left Liverpool if not for the draw that La Liga currently has.
With regards to the best league, many could argue that the Spanish league is leading the race. Although arguments say that it is the same teams winning every year, the recent emergence of Atletico Madrid has turned the league into a 3 horse race and it truly is filled with the best players in the world. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez for Madrid. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar of Barcelona just go to show the quality of players this league possesses which is unparalleled to that of the Premier League.
We can only wait in baited breath for an English revival in the competition next season. The hopes of English football in Europe were dashed so early in the first knockout round of the competition. All four English sides crashed and burned at the hands of the European elite and all scarper back to their cities for a rekindling in the Premier League. As the media and fans divert their attentions away from the competition, we cannot run away from this recurring problem. Are English teams underperforming or are we really that far behind the quality of the rest of Europe? We will have to wait until 15th September to see how we fare next year.