What price the greed is good league?

There is a growing school of thought that the Premier League is altogether too hectic with excessive influence put on dashing attack to the detriment of solid defending, writes Brian Glanville.

Ironic indeed, not to say contradictory to a degree. Round about the moment when it was announced that the Premier League clubs had extracted a new television contract worth a colossal GBP 5.1 billion, not a single English team was left in the quarterfinals of the European Champions League. Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea had all bitten the dust in the first knock-out stage. Liverpool, long since, had been utterly humiliated by Real Madrid, comfortably beaten at Anfield, guilty of giving up the ghost in the Bernabeu where their ultra-defensive team made no real attempt even to score and were duly and predictability beaten again.

All very well for Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s manager, his team embarrassingly eliminated by Monaco, to declare that the away goals counting double rule should disappear. The Gunners having been humiliated 3-1 in London but evened the scores on aggregate in Monaco, 2-0, only for the away goals to send Monaco through. But the implacable fact is that under Wenger, whatever his past triumphs with the Gunners, they have failed four times in a row to reach the quarterfinals, whatever their relative success each season in achieving fourth place in the Premiership, which allows them to enter the qualifying round of the Champions League.

Chelsea? Recently we were privileged to see a little homily from Jose Mourinho, the ever fluent and flamboyant manager of Chelsea, and winner of the European Cup not only with his Portuguese outsiders Porto, but with Internazionale of Milan as well. He spoke of tactics, preparation, attitude, implying that he had got them all abundantly right. But has he?

Whatever his previous triumphs, his Chelsea gave a pitiful performance at Stamford Bridge in the second leg against Paris Saint-Germain, who, early in the game, had the ever controversial but hugely talented centre forward Ibrahimovic sent off. Rightly or wrongly, people wondered at the time, not least Gary Lineker, once a World Finals top-scorer, who felt the decision was unpleasantly influenced by the Chelsea players who crowded around the referee, demanding Ibrahimovic’s expulsion.

With PSG thus reduced to 10 men, you would have thought that they would be easy prey for Chelsea’s hugely expensive side, Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Costa and the rest. But not a bit of it. PSG held out, if not comfortably but sturdily, to the end of the 90 minutes; at which point it seemed inevitable that tiring legs would doom them to defeat in extra-time. But still they held out, frequently threatening in attack themselves and at the end came through on away goals.

Nor was this the only major recent setback for Mourinho’s Chelsea. Only weeks before in the FA Cup they had bewilderingly and catastrophically lost at home to Bradford City of the actual Third Division. And this after going into a 2-0 lead which suggested they would enjoy a cascade of goals. Instead, Bradford tore great hopes in their inadequate defence and scored a glorious four goals to pitch them out of that competition too. So, for all his previous trophies, his gilded successes, how can the Mourinho of this season at Chelsea be in a position to pontificate about how it should be played?

Manchester City, with their vast Arabian money, outstrip even Chelsea and their oligarch owner Roman Abramovich in wealth; even if this season, their spending power has been reduced after their exceeding the so-called Financial Fair Play rules. But for all their success in the Premiership, their displays in the European Champions League have been a wretched anticlimax. Time and again they have gone out of the competition pitifully and this season has been no different. The fact that they cost their second-leg tie at home only 2-1 to a dazzling Barcelona and missed a penalty in the process, belied the cold, abysmal truth that Barca strolled through the proceedings at the Etihad.

Above all, there was Lionel Messi at his most gloriously elusive and effective best. The Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini of Chile, who himself had once managed Real Madrid, declared that Messi had created “an absolute imbalance” between the teams. Only a catalogue of marvellous saves by City’s England ’keeper Joe Hart had prevented a fusillade of Barcelona goals. Yet, only a few days earlier in the Spanish League, Barcelona had struggled against one of the lesser teams. Was Messi, however brilliant on the night in Manchester, really so irresistible? As exemplified when he nutmegged City’s experienced James Milner, who actually ended in a tangle on the ground.

David Moyes, now happily established as the manager of San Sebastian’s Real Sociedad in Spain, a sad failure last season at Manchester United after his long, resourceful years at Everton, opined, ‘It’s not been so long ago that we were looked at as probably having the best teams and it does change... It’s just becoming a bit of a habit that we’re not getting our teams quite as close to the final as we had in the past. I think this year is probably the poorest Premier League I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe we do go over the top and talk up the Premier League more than it’s actually been. There’s other leagues which are certainly now comparable.”

There is a growing school of thought that the Premier League is altogether too hectic with excessive influence put on dashing attack to the detriment of solid defending. ‘Premier League is nothing more than a manic Cabaret’, ran one newspaper headline, above an article which deplored the lack of decent English centre-backs. Emphasised by the passing power and subsequent passing in its entirety of Chelsea’s 34-year-old John Terry, who, to his delight, has just been given a one year extension to his contract with Chelsea, the club he has been with since boyhood. But look, alas, at the gulf between the successes of the Chelsea youth team and the failure of even their brightest stars to get into the senior side. From that point of view, the desire of the FA Chairman Greg Dyke to increase the number of home grown players each club must have does make some sense. Yet, look at the case of the new golden boy, Tottenham’s Harry Kane, a local product lent out to club after club and retained only because Tim Sherwood, in his brief managerial spell at Spurs last season, insisted he be kept at White Hart Lane. With so much money around it is all too easy to buy abroad and not always successfully, as Spurs know full well.