Are MUFC, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal Spoiling the Champions League?

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Are MUFC, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal Spoiling the Champions League?

Another season, another European Champions League quarterfinal draw, and again, England's "Big Four" clubs in the last eight of the competition.

Just like last season, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool are on familiar territory, having overcome their opponents from the previous round with varying degrees of ease.

That knockout round was billed as England v. Italy, with a dash of Liverpool v. Real Madrid thrown in: two of the European Cup's most prolific winners. Between them, they have contested 19 finals and prevailed on 14 of those occasions.

Many pundits predicted that there would be one casualty in the England v. Italy matches...but it was not to be.

Chelsea overcame former manager Claudio Ranieri and Juventus with no real difficulty.

Manchester United were a little flattered by a 2-0 aggregate scoreline against Jose Mourinho's Internazionale.

Arsenal held their nerve in a penalty shootout against Roma, who were desperate to reach the final being played at their very own Stadio Olimpico.

Liverpool and Chelsea, almost inevitably, have been drawn to face each other, for the fifth season running; and with Manchester United likely to face a less daunting prospect in Porto than their previous opponents, and a resurgent Arsenal against Villarreal, the odds are that three of the last four will be English clubs...just like last season. Barcelona, again, represent the most likely team to upset the English apple cart.

England have had a representative in every final since Liverpool's victory in 2005.

Does this familiarity breed contempt?

UEFA President Michel Platini has recently put forward a plan to reduce the number of Champions League places for bigger countries from four to three, citing, amongst other things, that the constant appearance of English clubs in the competition's latter stages was killing the tournament.

Platini has been bleating on about too many foreigners in the English game and wages spiraling out of control. The merits of demand and supply market forces can be debated until the proverbial cows come home, but barring a fundamental change in European employment laws, foreigners are here to stay and high wages, due in part to Rupert Murdoch's money, will not become a thing of the past anytime soon, either.

Wages and foreigners do not account for the dominance of English clubs. Steven Gerrard cost Liverpool nothing, having come through the Anfield academy, and it was a Gerrard-inspired performance that dismantled a Real Madrid side that boasted a £25 million Brazilian centre-half in Pepe.

Football, like many other things, moves in cycles. So, English clubs are dominating now in a similar way to the bygone days of Liverpool, Aston Villa, and Nottingham Forest in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I don't remember hearing too many complaints when AC Milan were dominating European football's premier competition, appearing in the final in 1989, 1990, 1993, 1994, and 1995, winning on three of those occasions. Three Dutchmen, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit,, and Marco Van Basten were the mainstays of that team.

Let's be honest, who would want to see CFR Cluj (champions of Romania) against FC Twente (placed fourth in Holland's Erevidise last season)? Most fans and certainly broadcasters would more likely salivate at the prospect of a Barcelona v. Manchester United final, or an Arsenal v. Real Madrid final.

I honestly believe there would be too much opposition to a change in the rules that would adversely impact the number of places afforded in the competition to the bigger countries.

One suggestion that has been proposed (domestic rules and voting aside) would be for a playoff for the fourth and final place awarded to the bigger countries.

Just look at England. If the season were to draw to a close now, the Premier League, broadcasters, and fans would be facing the prospect of Arsenal v. Wigan and Aston Villa v. Everton in semi-final playoffs.

What a tantalising opportunity it would represent for fans of those clubs to be playing for the right to win a Champions League place?

All too often, there have been meaningless end-of-season games. The reality is that Aston Villa will probably finish in 5th or 6th, despite their best efforts to usurp Arsenal's position, with either spot granting them a UEFA Cup place. Everton are likely too far ahead of Wigan or West Ham to be caught.

Taking the same analysis for Italy, we would have Fiorentina v. Lazio, and Roma v. Genoa for that last Italian place.

In Spain, fans of Villarreal, Deportivo La Coruna, Atletico Madrid, and Valencia would need no more incentive than Champions League football to fight to finish in their current positions.

A topic often debated but never resolved is whether England has the best league in the world. Perhaps not, from a technical standpoint.

But arguably it has the most exciting league in the world. For Italy's Kaka, there is England's Torres and Gerrard. For Messi, there is Rooney and Ronaldo. For Pepe, read Terry and Ferdinand.

Let's enjoy the current balance of power as it is. When that changes, and it will change, a new equilibrium will be reached, and we can enjoy that just as much.

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