Is the Premier League eating the rest of football?
It was with more than the usual haste that I strode off from the Nou Camp after Frank Rijkaard’s customary non-committal news conference on the eve of Barcelona’s Champions League match against Schalke on Tuesday. Liverpool against Arsenal was being shown on terrestrial TV here in Spain and it was one of those games that you didn’t want to miss.
So I settled down to my usual Reuters expenses supper of a bottle of beer and a Kit Kat from the hotel minibar and wasn’t disappointed. For sheer breathless excitement, intensity and entertainment the match couldn’t be beaten. The game had the Spanish commentators gasping with delight at the football being played by both sides, the commitment from the players and the non-stop support from the fans.
The next day the Spanish media was awash with tributes to the English game, with sports daily AS even managing to bring in an unexpected reference to Nelson and Trafalgar in their editorial on the match.
The Admiral’s famous “England expects every man to do his duty,” was the motto of English football, said the paper’s director Alfredo Relaño.
“There may have been almost no English players on the pitch, but this was pure English football,” he said. “It was open, attacking football, full of commitment, enthusiasm, risk and nobility.
“The fact that there were few English players involved showed that this sort of football has nothing to do with genetics but with the atmosphere in the English game, one of respect, fair play, solidarity and a job well done. Players who in other leagues are cheats, moaners and defensive turn into exemplary competitors in England. This is how football should be played.”
Now Alfredo may have got a little carried away with his purple prose but there is little doubt that with three sides in the Champions League semi-finals for the second year in a row England is without doubt the dominant force in European club football (See Mike Collett’s analysis and lots of other stuff on our main soccer site).
The contrast with Spanish football at the moment couldn’t be sharper. Admittedly they still have two sides in European competitions, but the quality in La Liga has undergone a worrying downturn in the last two seasons.
The patient, short-passing game favoured by so many Spanish sides is past its sell-by date. The stop-start nature of matches in the Primera Liga does little to prepare teams for the intensity of European encounters, while the players are struggling to match with the sheer physicality of English-based players.
Where the best players were once clamouring to join Spanish sides, an increasing number are now looking to England first and it isn’t just because of the money on offer. Being part of a top English club now appears to offer the best chance of success in the continent’s elite competition.
I get the impression it is the same story in other European leagues. Is there anything they can do to stop the English domination?
PHOTO: Carlos Tevez scores with a diving header to give Manchester United a 1-0 win on the night and a 3-0 aggregate victory over AS Roma in their Champions League quarter-final. Roma were Italy’s last representatives in this year’s competition, April 9. REUTERS/Darren Staples