English European absence a stain on our game

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Hazard, Silva, Sanchez, Aguero: poster boys of world football. Yet these four players will play no further part in this year’s Champions League. A league once recognised for its plethora of world class talent has not produced one quarter-finalist in European competitions – either in the Champions League or its much maligned sister, the Europa League. This is the second time since 1995 that English teams have failed to reach a Champions League quarterfinal, and you have to go back even earlier to find the last time there was no English representative in the Europa League at this stage of the tournament. As Greg Dyke queries the lack of English talent playing in the Premier League, another question remains – what has happened to our European dominance?

Champions League

Arsenal were undone on their home turf by straightforward counter attacking Monaco – at best, an average side, and at worst, an awful one. Liverpool failed to make it through their own group; Chelsea were deservedly beaten across two legs by PSG – a French side far superior to Monaco – and Manchester City were outplayed for 180 minutes against an irresistible Barcelona side.

The lack of a winter break has been thrown around as a cause of the dire displays. Whilst English teams undergo a relentless fixture schedule over the festive period, La Liga and Bundesliga players recharge their batteries. This argument does not wash. Liverpool won the 2001 UEFA Cup, the 2005 Champions League and were finalists again in 2007. Chelsea reached the 2005 semi-final – losing to Luis Garcia’s ‘ghost goal.’ Under Avram Grant, the Blues were losing finalists to Manchester United in 2008. Ferguson’s men also reached the final in 2009. Arsenal were fifteen minutes from glory in the 2006 final, before losing out to Barcelona’s one-man advantage. Of course, who could forget Roberto di Matteo, who masterminded Chelsea’s unlikely triumph in 2012?

Perhaps economic factors should be considered in this European demise. Increasing TV revenues gathered by the Premier League have not only benefited those at the top of the table but all twenty top division teams. The increase in resources across all teams has subsequently changed the dynamic of the Premier league. That is, any team can beat any other team, regardless of stature. In essence, the Premier League has become more competitive; and significantly, more competitive than other European leagues. The increase in competitiveness in the Premier league invariably increases intensity of domestic matches – where Arsenal may have rested key players against Crystal Palace before their first leg against Monaco in the past, now a full strength squad was needed even to secure a narrow victory.

Increase in game intensity through the increase in domestic competiveness may have resulted in a progressive European demise over the last few years, peaking at this current season. This is not to say that English teams are not going to re-join the European elite. Indeed, from an economic standpoint, competition improves efficiency and performance. Perhaps the same may apply to English teams in upcoming Champions League campaigns.

Photograph: wikipedia

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