All-English European finals Should Be The Norm, Not The Exception
May 29, 2019
The English are coming.
Brexit might be tearing the United Kingdom out of the European Union, but the reach of the country’s football teams (at least England’s football teams) has never stretched so far across the continent. Quite literally when you consider the distance of London to Baku for tonight’s Europa League Final.
Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur fans don’t quite have as far to travel to this Saturday’s Champions League final in Madrid, but nonetheless their journey to the Spanish capital, along with Arsenal and Chelsea’s trip to Azerbaijan, present an image of English dominance at the top of European football.
This has been taken as a great triumph for the Premier League and the English game as a whole. In recent years, the Premier League has been derided and devalued for its failure to permeate the top level of European football, with the self-styled ‘Best League In The World’ only producing one Champions League winner (Chelsea 2012) in the past 10 years.
2019 has changed that perception, with all four English teams making the quarter finals of the Champions League, subsequently producing the two finalists, and the Europa League an all-English affair. Combine this with the development of the England team under Gareth Southgate and the country’s footballing health is better than it has been in decades.
Indeed, it’s difficult to deny English football’s supremacy right now, but how much triumph is really in that? After all, their supremacy is a direct result of their wealth. There has been no upsetting of the odds, no overturning of the establishment. Instead, this sort of thing should be the norm, not the exception. All-English European finals should be relatively common.
Nine of the 20 clubs with the biggest wage bills in Europe play in the Premier League. The division’s total wage bill of £2.9 billion dwarfs that of any other football league on the planet. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Gareth Bale might be the sport’s four highest-paid paid players, but Premier League wages are, on average, the most generous in Europe.
It might be somewhat remarkable that all four European finalists this season come from the same league, the Premier League, and even more remarkable that three of those four teams are from the same city, London, but more stunning than this is the underachievement of the richest football division on the continent over the past decade.
The 2008 Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United in Moscow should have heralded an era of dominance for English football. It was at this point that the Premier League started to stretch its legs as the predominant league in world football. The upward trajectory that has carried England’s top flight, largely through an astonishing growth in broadcast revenue, to this point can be traced back to around that time.
Since then, there has been seven Spanish winners, an Italian winner, a German winner and just one English winner of European football’s most prestigious club competition. That is not a reflection of the advantage the Premier League holds over the rest of the European game. Instead, it is a black mark against the lack of planning, foresight and strategy commonly displayed by the top English clubs.
If the Premier League’s improvement in Europe can be attributed to any one thing, it’s the upgrade in managerial nous witnessed in recent years. In Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, England is now home to arguably the three best coaches in the game right now. Add Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri to that and it becomes clear where the real improvement has occurred.
These are men who, certainly more so than the previous crop, know how to make the most out of the Premier League’s financial cushion. The penny (pun intended) has dropped that cash mustn’t just be splurged on expensive, big-name players, but on expensive, big-name managers too. Maybe now with the likes of Emery, Guardiola, Klopp and Sarri in charge the Premier League might finally dominant in the way it should have already done for years.
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Author: Graham Ruthven
Graham Ruthven is a football writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He was written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, Four Four Two, The Scotsman and others. He is also a football shirt aficionado and still maintains to this day that Dennis Bergkamp didn’t mean it