EPL: What This Season's Results in Europe Reveal About English Football
No matter the manner of each team’s exit—United outclassed by Bilbao, City enduring a “strange” game, Arsenal almost achieving the unthinkable—the damning reality is that Chelsea remain England’s sole representative in this year’s European quarterfinals, and only by a whisker.
So much for English dominance in the European game.
So much, too, for Manchester’s attempts to bring home Europe’s consolation prize.
What do the latest European results reflect about the English game? Here are five revelations from the Premier League’s fall on the European stage.
The EPL Doesn’t Promote Style
In the cutthroat business of modern football, results matter much more than style—the end, as they say, justifies the means.
Manchester United and City, leading the Premier League, have produced some scintillating displays in England this season, but their table-topping points and goals tally will have been a reflection of their predatory finishing and ruthless clinicality.
Evidently, with United in transition and City in budding development, they still have a ways to go in terms of developing the composure and professionalism needed to succeed even in Europe’s second-tier competition.
Arsenal have long been pretenders of Barcelona’s world-famous tiki-taka style, and while their brilliant attacking game completely overran AC Milan in the second leg, their first-leg naivety and capitulation rendered the miraculous comeback a step too far in the end.
What of Chelsea?
Blues owner Roman Abramovich’s much-publicized attempts at instilling an attractive brand of football culminated in Andre Villas-Boas’ whirlwind exit—and Chelsea’s thrilling win against Napoli was achieved through a game plan taken right out of Jose Mourinho’s playbook.
Physicality, defensive solidity, a collective winning mentality—wasn’t that the same style that served Stoke City so well in the Europa League group stages?
A Gradual Exodus of Talent from English Shores
Xabi Alonso, the foundation of Real Madrid’s midfield, became one of the best midfielders in Europe while at Liverpool and moved back to Spain.
So too Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal (Barcelona), Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea (Real Madrid), and a host of many other established names.
Spain—in particular Real and Barcelona—seem to hold all the attraction these days.
And Italy’s Serie A seems to be enjoying a resurgence in big-name recruitment like its teams have in European performances.
Could it be because of the way players are taxed in England? Or is it purely because the footballing institutions in England just can’t match the cathedrals in Madrid, Barcelona and Milan?
But there's certainly something that is making players want to jump ship.
Weakening Continental Representation
What happens when your best players leave for greener pastures?
Your team—and your league—loses some of its luster and star quality.
It’s no surprise that the departures of the players mentioned in the previous slide were met with disappointment from fans, players and coaches—Premier League fans want to see the best quality in England, whether it be foreign or domestic talent.
And it’s precisely because of this exodus in world-class talent that the top-tier English clubs are losing their match-winners and game-changers.
Which means that England’s disappointing representation in Europe’s latter stages this season really shouldn’t come as that big a surprise.
The EPL Is Most Exciting League in Europe
Okay, maybe except for the Champions League.
But the fact that the current front two in the Premier League have just dropped out of the Europa League’s Round of 16, while fifth-placed Chelsea are the furthest advanced in the Champions League says all we need to know about the competitiveness of the Premier League.
This is not a debate on which is the best league in Europe per se, but rather, perhaps, the most exciting one in which results are truly unpredictable every week.
The dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain’s La Liga is (too) well-known, while Napoli seem to have been the only team capable of challenging the traditional Italian giants’ hegemony.
Maybe it’s because the big boys in England have weakened (see second slide). Maybe the smaller teams are closing the gap.
Whatever it is, the Premier League makes for the most exciting watching throughout Europe—and this is a testament to the creators and administrators of a world-class entertainment product.
National League Has Become More Important Than National Development
So the English have created the best-known entertainment product in the world—but at what cost?
In a battle between business profits and “the beautiful game,” the former will win every time.
But this means that the state of the national game in England is lagging further and further behind its rivals on the continent.
Consider the recently all-conquering Spanish and the ever-impressive Germans—their national leagues might come second and third to the Premier League in terms of pure unpredictable entertainment, but their grassroots institutions and infrastructure are capable of producing players of the highest caliber every year.
For a nation that aspires to have a footballing dominance to match its self-acclaimed contributions, having an attractive league product is simply not enough.
Just look at the number of true English stars on the continental stage—only John Terry and Frank Lampard, both in the twilight of their careers, remain in any European competition.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom for English football, and certainly not for the Premier League.
That there is a cycle of dominance in the upper echelons of the European game is well-known—and perhaps England is just going through a phase in the trough while Spain enjoys its peak.
But the manner of the exits of England’s representatives in Europe this season is certainly cause for concern.
And it represents a rapid fall from some recent heady heights—after all, it was only three seasons ago that England found themselves with three teams in the Champions League semifinals. (As a Liverpool fan, I know firsthand how hard the fall from grace is.)
There’s a situation to be addressed in English football, no doubt, but having created the phenomenally successful Premier League, England definitely has the brains to prevent this minor blip from becoming a major slide.
If the Premier League isn’t all they care about.
If you liked this article, you might be interested in the following pieces:
Chelsea FC: 5 Reasons League Should Remain Blues’ Top Priority
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5 Reasons Arsenal Prodigy Should Gatecrash Euro 2012
EPL: Choosing 1 Signing for Each of the Big 6