On a scale of Manchester City to Newport County, England would be about an Everton. But how would England’s Euro 2016 qualifying opponents fare against English club sides?
Ten out of ten for England – they made what looked like an easy qualifying process look exactly that. But have you ever debated how certain international teams would match up against Premier League, or Championship sides for that matter?
You’re not going to get a definitive answer here but I’m going to run a few national flags up the flagpole and see if you salute. Feel free to disagree and no offence intended to anyone – it’s just for fun. Let’s start with the top seven, according to this biased English “Evertonian”.
Germany = Chelsea: The reigning champions, normally find a way to efficiently win big matches – their temporary blips show just what we’ve come to expect from them.
Spain = Manchester City: An embarrassment of riches with real strength in depth, particularly recently.
Brazil = Manchester United: The most successful teams in history, not quite at their peak at the moment.
Belgium = Arsenal: Similar to France and Holland, a great array of attacking talent at their disposal, perhaps undermined defensively. Capable of silky, attractive football.
Italy = Liverpool: Among the most successful teams in history, normally there or thereabouts.
Argentina = Tottenham: Sides with quality that you expect to be in the mix more often than they are.
England = Everton: Good sides but not great, they’ve tasted success in the past. Consistent performers, almost ever-present at the top table through the years. Under-perform in the cup competitions.
Now I’m not saying that Chelsea are as good as Germany or Spain would meet their match against City but now I think of it, I’m also not completely dismissing the notion. For a while now we’ve heard the accusation that England caps are being given away too cheaply and that we’re not producing as many international quality players these days.
Of course you’d like more than the one in three of the Premier League players to choose from and would feel more confident selecting players if they’d played more club games. But I’m firmly in the camp that if you’re good enough to play in Premier League, particularly for one of the bigger teams, then you’re good enough to play international football.
The Premier League is a world-class club competition, featuring international superstars from around the globe. Not all international teams have household names at their disposal but most Premier League teams have at least a few and aren’t limited by where someone is born.
As an Englishman I rarely sit back and think I’m watching a class above when I take in an international match like I do when I watch the Rugby World Cup for example. The cohesiveness of top club teams typically sees these sides play to the level of the sum of their parts and international teams are at a disadvantage in this respect.
To me the Champions League is the pinnacle and the competitiveness of the Premier League is not matched in the international arena. Many players representing international sides aren’t considered good enough to play in one of the top leagues so why should international football automatically be considered as a step up in the same way that international cricket clearly is.
On paper, Northern Ireland had no right to qualify for next year’s European Championships in France. Their magnificent achievements, along with two other members of the Pot 5 brigade, are testament to what a tightly-knit side, well organised and not overly reliant on their handful of top-flight players can achieve.
Many of the players representing the home nations other than England ply their trade at smaller clubs in lower divisions and lesser leagues. Some are at top flight clubs but play more regularly for their country than for their club. Wales too have punched above their weight in qualifying convincingly for France 2016 but it begs the question – how would they fare against English club sides?
In my opinion Wales, Ireland and Scotland would each struggle to survive in the English Premier League. England would probably only be a top half side, possibly top seven side like Everton or Spurs. Northern Ireland, perhaps more akin to a regular Championship side on paper, have helped remind us of the old cliché that football isn’t played on paper. Holland, for one, must be wishing it were.
So what of England’s group E opponents – who would play them if there was an English production of this qualifying campaign? As well as their international histories, I’ve looked to the dubious indicators provided by their qualifying draw seedings and current world rankings for help here. No doubt falling into the trap of mistaking fame for quality, here’s what I came up with…
Switzerland (pot 2, ranked 12th) = Established Premier League team who occasionally flirts with relegation.
Slovenia (pot 3, ranked 46th) = A mid-table Championship team on the fringe of the play-off positions.
Estonia (pot 4, 87th) = A struggling Championship team.
Lithuania (pot 5, ranked 116th) = A League One team who may consider themselves more of a Championship team.
San Marino (pot 6, ranked 196th) = A League Two team with very limited resources.
Not to belittle these proud footballing nations or England’s performances in becoming the only team this campaign and just the sixth team (fifth nation) to go through European qualifying with a 100% record.
It does perhaps add some perspective to much harder challenges ahead for England. Certainly if Wales, Northern Ireland and possibly the Republic of Ireland have anything to do with it.
Richard Coleman, Pundit Arena