European suicide mission

Time and time again when talking to football fans from around the UK I hear the same old cry; why don’t English teams win more European competitions? Because they don’t, it gives those with a certain agenda cause to say that the English Premier League is not as strong as we think it is. I disagree, but our teams are handicapped for sure.

Let’s get through some figures to back this up. We aren’t talking about specific teams here, but the league as a whole. In the current transfer market for example, the top four’s most valuable players in the world are Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Neymar. They all play in Spain of course. In fact they all play for Real and Barca. However, give or take a few million here and there, players in the Premier League are worth a combined £3.3billion. Compare this to La Liga’s £2.5billion or Serie A and Bundesliga’s £2.1billion and you can see that we are way out in front. This doesn’t mean we necessarily have the best individuals in the world, at least not any more, but it does mean though that we definitely have the deepest and strongest league of 20 teams and by some distance.

So how does what I’ve written here affect English clubs’ performance in the top European competitions? Surely if our league is that tough and strong it prepares Premier League sides perfectly for a battle against the continent’s best? Apparently not. But why? My theory is that, although as fans we all whine and complain that these overpaid pansies should be able to play as much as we want them to play for the money we pay, it simply isn’t realistic. They are sportspeople. They train and play hard and the human body can only take so much.

Our domestic schedule, and I’m not talking about playing games at Christmas or over bank holiday weekends which I’m all in favour of, is gruelling. In Spain, the two Madrid teams and Barcelona already have very valuable squads with top individual players as mentioned above. The bonus however is that as they are so far ahead of their competition domestically that frankly they find a lot of games easy. It’s not that they can rest players; it’s that the effort put in against relatively weak competition in a slower paced game simply does not take their body to the limits. In La Liga, a top side can roll someone over 6-0 without breaking a sweat, then play a Copa Del Rey game against complete third rate opposition and do it again without taking a risk on the top players. Before you know it, you’re top of the league and into the quarter-finals of your domestic cup. You then go into your crucial Champions League or Europa League tie not exerted mentally and certainly not at breaking point physically.

Meanwhile, in England, you play the team currently sitting in the lower-bottom half but it dawns on you they have a squad more valuable than Spain’s top 8 and with some bloody good players who “wanted to test themselves in the Premier League”. It takes all of your concentration and energy to get a result. Sometimes you don’t even get a result. It’s Ok though, it’s the League Cup on Tuesday. Ah, an extra competition they don’t have in Spain. Well, its fine, we just won’t play all of the first team boys, only some of them.  Anyway, surely the competition will be easy if we draw someone from the next league down? Well, the English Championship is so well supported it can challenge Ligue 1 in France, Serie A in Italy and the Eredivisie in the Netherlands. In terms of the value of squads in the Championship, it’s as good as Portugal’s Primera and better than the top leagues in Ukraine, the Netherlands and Greece. Draw a Blackburn, Forest, Middlesbrough, Derby etc and don’t count on an easy game.

Back to that incredibly tough league, then the same dilemma in the F.A. Cup. Back to the league….you get the picture. Then, after all that, when our teams then have to go and play in Europe frankly they are shattered! Our league system is one to be hugely proud of.  Here, we have 20 Premier League teams every year who can perform to a high physical standard and another 5 or 6 waiting in the wings of the Championship. The competition is so deep; there are no easy games and virtually no chance for our teams to enter a European fixture at 100% fitness.

Given how much we love our leagues there’s no way we can, or should, make them easier. We will only be winning European trophies regularly when we learn that Spain has mastered the simple art of player exchange. In recent times many a big name has crossed from La Liga to the Premier League or vice-versa. There have been some wins for English clubs, Sergio Aguero being an obvious one, but most are questionable and in general the Spanish are winning that particular battle.

Manchester City, English champions no less, are not the same side without Yaya Toure or David Silva. These are two good players, no question. However, they, along with Jesus Navas, left Spain for England without the big Spanish teams wishing to play them in their side. No matter how much you think of that trio, the brutal fact is that they were not considered good enough by Real and Barca. Mesut Ozil and even Angel Di Maria were considered surplus. As was Cesc Fabregas. When Juan Mata and David Villa were tearing up defences together in Valencia, Barcelona broke their backs to make sure they secured Villa’s services. Mata? No thanks. He went to England. Negredo, Soldado, there’s more.  Not only were the big two in Spain passing on these players but over a course of time they bought back Pique, brought over Ronaldo and Bale and even signed the Count himself, Luis Suarez. These were not players that their English employers could easily afford to lose. In fact in the case of those last three they were their respective clubs’ best players and arguably best in the league at the time.

Is our league a competitive beast to be proud of, or is it just a European suicide mission?  Our clubs are competing in triathlons before Champions League games while the others are running in 100-metre sprints. Until English clubs can learn to get tough with their contracted players and their suitors as well as stop being tempted by players deemed not good enough to play for their main European rivals they will never wrestle control from Spain.  And we haven’t even started on Bayern Munich yet!

By Gary Christie – @GaryChristie –

Posted by Natter Football

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