The Premier League is renowned as the best league in the world but if you look at the list of previous winners of the Champions League, English teams are way down the list of winners or even finalists.
The last three seasons have seen the Champions League trophy remain in Spain. While Sevilla have landed the last three Europa League cups, beating Liverpool in last years final.
Arsenal’s embarrassing collapse at the hands of Bayern Munich on Wednesday all but rules them out of contention this season with English hopes resting on Manchester City, who face an in form Monaco while Champions Leicester City face Sevilla although Claudio Ranieri has relegation worries on his mind and elimination at the last 16, while no embarrassment, could be the best result for all concerned in the long run.
This means English hopes of success are placed on the shoulders of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City unless Leicester City can spark to life in the Champions League and produce something similar to the fairy tale that was last season.
How have the Premier League clubs fallen so far behind the rest? There was a period between 2004/05 to 2011/12 where English clubs contested no less than seven finals out of eight.
While England boast about the great league that everybody wants to join, the numbers don’t add up. Sure the league is exciting, anybody can beat anybody and the last four seasons alone have produced four different winners but teams are judged on domestic success as well as European success.
The league continues to attract the top players and managers, yet if you want to achieve European success you’d be best advised to go elsewhere. Alexis Sanchez is showing signs of frustration that he swapped La Liga for the Premier League. Mesut Ozil, who made the same move, is also stalling on a new contract at Arsenal.
Manchester City did reach the Semi finals last year but turned up with an attitude that they were just happy to be there and Real Madrid went through with ease. Last season, Manchester United didn’t make it beyond the group stage while Arsenal and Chelsea went out in the last-16.
This campaign Tottenham failed to make it out of their group and joined Manchester United in the Europa League while following Arsenal’s embarrassing but unsurprising result, English hopes now rest on Manchester City and Leicester City.
Last season’s Premier League winners, Leicester City won the league without having the hassle of European football, Chelsea are doing the same this season, leading to the debate that you’re better off out of Europe if you want domestic success.
The lack of a winter break in England has to be seen as a huge factor. It is no coincidence that Spain and Germany, both of whom have a winter break in La Liga and the Bundesliga, have dominated in Europe as English sides struggle. These leagues have up to two weeks off relaxing, while English clubs could play three or four fixtures in the same period. While Boxing day football remains a huge part of the English game, perhaps it is time to move with the times.
Jose Mourinho has this week being complaining that the FA do not do enough to help English teams in Europe by simply moving a fixture by one day in order to help the club in whatever European competition they may be involved in. This happens in other leagues, but not England.
English clubs seem to be satisfied to finish in the top four while failing in Europe as they try to make sure they get back there again the following season. It is a cycle of failure that brings in no European success but the money that comes from just qualifying is a nice cushion to have that seems to keep the boards of those involved quite happy.
Arsenal have been doing this for a large part of Arsene Wenger’s spell at the club and fans are now starting to rebel against the model that their club is now a business first and a football club second.
Liverpool highlighted this problem when Brendan Rodgers fielded an under-strength team at the Bernabeu in a meeting with Real Madrid in 2014 in order to rest key players for a Premier League fixture against Chelsea the following weekend that was deemed more important. Liverpool lost both games.
Perhaps some negotiations and common sense from the FA could find a solution where both fixtures could be fulfilled with a first team line up by a simple consultation with the clubs involved. Surely it can only be good for the English game if a Premier League team could win the Champions League once again.
The League Cup too is an added distraction. Sure it is great to win a trophy but most top teams would swap it for a top four finish. Resting players in this competition damages the reputation of the cup and perhaps teams involved in Europe should be omitted from the competition altogether.
Perhaps English football is just going through a phase. If Manchester United finish outside the top four and win the Europa League this season, then the Premier League will have five representatives in next season’s competition, should the fourth placed team make it through the playoff.
This will mean at least five of Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger, should he remain at the Emirates, will be in next season’s competitions, some of the best coaches in the world.
Conte, Klopp and Mourinho have yet to bring their sides to the Champions League, maybe they can break the deadlock. Klopp has already contested one final with Borussia Dortmund while Mourinho is a two-time winner with FC Porto and Inter Milan.
The FA need to do more to facilitate English clubs in Europe. If the lack of success in Europe continues and other nations can take advantage, it may lead to the Premier League losing one of their spots in the competition leading to the race for a top three finish all the more critical, perhaps further neglecting the job you have to do once you get there just to ensure you get back to it the following year. And the cycle continues.
Damien McEvoy Pundit Arena