English hegemony in Champions League

Money has brought players such as Robinho to English clubs.-AP

The dominance of English clubs in Europe is evident. With the Champions League semifinals approaching, three of the remaining four contenders hail form England — Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. By Harry Catchpole.

From WAGs to riches, trophies to international fame — anything is possible for a footballer in the English Premier League (EPL). The best players from around the world now want to play in England, resulting in a plethora of talent and a number of magnificent teams in the English game.

The dominance of English clubs in Europe is evident. With the Champions League semifinals approaching, three of the remaining four contenders hail form England — Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. The possibility of all four semifinalists being English may only have been taken away by the quarterfinal draw.

Chelsea knocked Liverpool out in a thrilling two-leg encounter that would rival any football game for quality, passion and entertainment. Had Liverpool drawn Barcelona in the quarterfinals and not Chelsea we may well have had an all English semifinals, considering that Liverpool breezed past Barcelona’s closest La Liga rivals Real Madrid (beating them 5-1 on aggregate) in the previous round.

This year’s English ascendancy in Europe’s primary football competition in no aberration. There has been an English club in the final for the last five years and this is the second time in two years that all four English clubs have made it to the quarterfinals. In this decade there has been a transfer in the balance of power away from the continental, and specifically Spanish, teams who were unbeatable in the early 2000s, across the channel to England — the home of the beautiful game. The question is what factors have created such a sea change?

The evolution of the English game from the mid-1990s to today is one of the reasons for the current success. The arrival of European players such as Zola, Bergkamp and Cantona brought a greater technical ability to a league that was already famed for a fast and furious pace, and no shortness of aggression. More often than not, foreign players arriving in England take time to adapt to the speed of the game, some never do, but for those who master it while retaining their skill sets the football world becomes their oyster.

English teams have advanced in both technical skill level and in tactical awareness which combined with the natural pace of the English game creates a lethal concoction. Gone are the days when an English side’s only weapons were a bulky striker and long searching balls. This was evident in Arsenal’s recent quarterfinal with Villarreal. The ability of Arsenal to play at great pace with unfaltering technical ability was clear as they exposed Villarreal, high tempo pressuring without the ball and even quicker with it. The Spanish club looked to be without answers to Arsenal’s young guns; like an elderly relative struggling to control a rampant grandchild.

It would be churlish to suggest that it was a home-grown victory as Arsenal had only two Englishmen in the side. The point is that the style with which Arsenal played was the Anglo-European amalgamation and at the forefront was Theo Walcott — an Englishman playing with the awareness of an Italian, the vision of a Spaniard and the freedom of a Frenchman — with attributes he has surely absorbed from Arsenal’s cosmopolitan dressing room.

What is it that attracts top European and international footballers to England? It is certainly not the glamorous nightlife that brought the likes of Egyptian striker Mido to Wigan, nor was it the climate that was the allure for Robinho in his £32.5m transfer to Manchester City. It is doubtful that Robinho even knew where Manchester was before he arrived there last September, and even having arrived after his deadline day transfer he remained confused as to his whereabouts “On the last day, Chelsea made a great proposal and I accepted.” A reporter queried: “You mean Manchester, right?” “Yeah, Manchester, sorry!” answered Robinho. The attraction of course is money.

There has always been money in English football — it is a national obsession much like cricket in India, however recent years have seen skyrocketing prices. The money in Premiership Football is staggering. BSkyB recently agreed to pay a figure believed to be in excess of £1bn to retain the television rights to the biggest matches until 2013. American businessmen, Russian oligarchs, Arab property moguls and a portly Geordie retail magnate all have their fingers in the lucrative premiership pie. They are willing to pour their own money into English football, in the hope of astronomical returns.

The clubs are run as businesses — gaining blue chip sponsors and attracting global support. The most successful, Manchester United and Arsenal, have remained stable through the managerial reigns of Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger respectively — whilst Real Madrid change their manager more regularly than their strip. Rarely transfer window goes by without a number of Serie A or La Liga stars moving to seemingly more modest English clubs because of the financial incentives. The top players are paid more in a month than most would expect in a year, and although some European giants can compete — namely Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan — England seems to be the more fashionable destination of late.

The rise of ‘Posh and Becks’ led the way for mega-celebrities to be born out of English football. The media attention and column inches are unprecedented; to some footballers this is a further attraction of the English league. The pop-star girlfriends and television cameos feed their desire for attention, although these are just welcome bonuses — money talks, and the EPL will not shut up.