Champions League: English Teams Dominated

This week sees the second legs of the Champions League 1st Knock-out stage and the prize at stake is a place in the quarter-finals. It is doubtful that anyone will make much money betting that all four Premier League teams be in that last-eight draw. All four are in strong positions and have recent history on their side - a Premier league team has not been knocked out of the Champions League by a European team for nearly two years, since Milan beat Liverpool in the 2007 final! Last season the only teams that were able to eliminate Premier League teams, were other Premier League teams! Liverpool beat Arsenal in the quarter-finals, Chelsea then beat Liverpool in the semi-finals (at the third time of asking) and Manchester United then beat Chelsea on penalties following John Terry’s infamous slip.

Barca and Milan are the two teams that have been consistently able to beat English teams in the last few years, although they have also been on the losing end too. Milan beat Manchester United in the 1st knock-out round in 2005 and in the semi-finals in 2007, when they beat Liverpool in the final. However they have lost to both Liverpool (famously in 2005’s final) and Arsenal last season in the 1st knock-out round. Barca have beaten Chelsea in 2006’s 1st knock-out round and then Arsenal in that year’s final, but they have lost to Chelsea (2005), Liverpool (2007) and Manchester United (2008). Other teams to have knocked out Premier League clubs since 2004-5 are Bayern Munich (Arsenal, 2005), Benfica (Liverpool, 2006) and PSV (Arsenal, 2007). Chelsea deserve a special mention - since 2005 they have only been knocked-out by English teams (three times) and Barcelona.

Other statistics since 2005 - the four premier league clubs have 10 semi-final appearances between them, they have each appeared in at least one final, each final has featured at least one English team. There is a clear trend in this data - Premier League clubs are becoming more difficult to beat in Europe every year and this has prompted FIFA chief Sepp Blatter to voice his concern; “I have my concerns because the Premier League is the strongest in the world, definitely. It is taking over in such a manner that the other leagues have difficulties to match it.” He also noted that the Premier League itself was also dominated by the same teams that dominate the Champions League; “In a competition where two-thirds or three-quarters of the participants in the league play not to be first, but not to be relegated, there is something wrong.”

For once the Swiss is talking a bit of sense, but is in no position to be able to rectify the problem. Blatter has identified the foreign influence in English football as the root of the problem and said he would attempt to convince Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore to impose a minimum requirement for home-grown talent on the pitch in an attempt to prevent the pillaging of young talent from abroad and warned that domestic owners might provide better stewardship through the economic downturn. “I want to try to, if not persuade him (Richard Scudamore), then at least influence him in his thoughts that to have a minimum of local players will enhance the quality of his league. Foreign ownership is definitely a risk, it is not the basis of football, but here we can do nothing. At the moment in the economic crisis, maybe the big investors and the big companies, will have less money to go in than local or regional investors who will be there because they identify themselves with the club.”

The debate over foreign ownership has been ongoing for sometime in the Premier League and, with the exception of Randy Lerner’s tenure at Aston Villa, none of the foreign owners have exactly covered themselves in glory; the crass spending of Chelsea and Manchester City, the lack of spending and boardroom soap opera at Liverpool, the financial and managerial shenanigans at Portsmouth and West Ham and the quite terrifying level of debt incurred at Manchester United.

Blatter though has missed the point when he focuses on foreign owners and players. They are simply a symptom of the problem, which is, of course, money. Without the huge sums distributed to the English clubs initially through the sale of television rights, the clubs and the league itself would not be so high profile and attractive to foreign owners and players. The skillful marketing of the Premier League combined with the nature of the English game and the expectations of the fans have created a ravenous monster that seems unstoppable. FIFA and UEFA have been marketing football for years, monetizing their competitions (World Cup, European Championship and Champions League) via television rights, exclusive sponsorships and merchandising, now the Premier League have taken up that baton and ran with it so successfully suddenly things are looking a bit different. What are the chances of another all-English final, or even two all-English semi-finals?



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