Premier League domination of Champions League hits European giants hard

English side's success in the Champions League in recent years shows the strength of the Premier League. But John Roycroft wonders the effect a super strong English league will have on the health of European football overall. 
Premier League domination of Champions League hits European giants hard

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (second left) celebrates scoring the side's first goal against AC Milan during their UEFA Champions League, Group B match at the San Siro.

SKY SPORTS have often espoused the idea that the Premier League is the best football league in the world. Their breathless adverts point to the thrilling pace and drama of England's top-tier football.

For most of the non-British world, this idea was greeted with an incredulous raised eye-brow assured in the knowledge that the English can hype their game all they want, while the Spanish, Italian, and German teams hoovered up the titles. The behemoths of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and AC Milan observed the noisy neighbour off the coast, confident of their own success come May.

It was a hard belief for many decades, that while the English game did offer a sort of frantic spectacle, it could rarely compete quality-wise with other major European leagues.

However, should one look at Champion League results of the last three to four years, one would surely consider that there is a change in the order of European football and that England's top-tier is storming the pinnacle of the European game.

Manchester United's Mason Greenwood (right) celebrates scoring their side's goal during the UEFA Champions League, Group F match at Old Trafford, Manchester. 
Manchester United's Mason Greenwood (right) celebrates scoring their side's goal during the UEFA Champions League, Group F match at Old Trafford, Manchester. 

Easy run

Two of the past three Champions League finals have been all-English affairs, while the results in the group stages of this season's competition have been astonishingly successful for each of the English sides, including Manchester United, who despite struggling domestically, managed to still comfortably traverse their qualification route to the knockouts by winning their group.

On Tuesday's final group matchday, Man City and Liverpool had the luxury of resting key players, confident that they had already qualified for the next round as group winners. City went down to a 2-1 defeat against Leipzig. But Liverpool, with eight changes to the 'first' team that beat Wolves the previous weekend, won their away game by the same score against a full-strength AC Milan team desperate to win or risk exiting all European competition this season. This was an AC Milan side, currently topping Serie A, going down at home to a Liverpool side fielding some players without any game time in the Premier League not to mind the Champions League.

The result not only confirmed Liverpool's place in the next round as group winners, it also meant that they became the first English side to win every one of their group games in Champions League history. Joining an elite list of sides to do so, made up of, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, AC Milan, Spartak Moscow, and PSG.

That they did it in relative comfort, from a group dubbed 'the group of death', made their historic achievement all the more remarkable.

It must be noted that Ajax also completed the feat in their own Group D finale on Tuesday night.

Beyond winning groups, all four English sides had the luxury of already being qualified for the knockout stages, even before they took to the field for their final games. Impressive representatives of their league when you look at the calibre of the teams that didn't make it. Most notably Barcelona, who missed the cut for the first time since 2004.

Barcelona's Ronald Araujo reacts after the third goal of Bayern during the Champions League group E match against Bayern Munich in Munich. Picture: AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
Barcelona's Ronald Araujo reacts after the third goal of Bayern during the Champions League group E match against Bayern Munich in Munich. Picture: AP Photo/Matthias Schrader

The style in which the Premier League sides achieved their advancement was even more impressive. No longer can one say that the typical English style of hard work and long-ball bombast saw them through. No, now the Premier League sides combine tactics and skills, pressing and finesse, as good if not better than any mainland European side.

Of course, the English sides' success is built on the skill of their imported foreign players, but most of us will admit the skills of these imports are starting to rub off on their native teammates, as exampled in England's successful run in the recent Euros.

Continental drift

While English sides are enjoying a golden era, it does raise the spectre of it coming at the expense of their European neighbours.

The Premier League's ability to attract record-breaking television deals from around the globe is fuelling fears that a gap is growing between England's top clubs and the rest.

The Premier League has long enjoyed the position as the wealthiest league in the world on the back of bumper TV deals at a domestic and international level.

Last month, the Premier League secured a reported $2.7bn renewal of their six-year rights deal with US broadcaster NBC. Followed by a £2bn six-year deal for the Nordic countries, starting in 2022.

By comparison, Spain's La Liga completed a $1.4bn deal in May with ESPN for their US rights, which runs for the next eight years.

All that money, along with their prize money, is starting to show on the field. In the last transfer window, Premier League clubs' net spend of £560 million was more than 10 times that of La Liga (£55 million), Serie A (£50 million) and Ligue 1 (£15 million), while Bundesliga clubs made a net profit of an estimated £35 million, thanks in large part to the £73 million sale of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United.

Manchester United's Jadon Sancho (left) beats Chelsea's Jorginho to go on and score their side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, London. Picture:Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Manchester United's Jadon Sancho (left) beats Chelsea's Jorginho to go on and score their side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, London. Picture:Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Indeed, Bayer Leverkusen CEO Fernando Carro said, he feared the Bundesliga risked becoming a development league for the Premier League if current trends continued.

"We tried to buy a player in the summer, and in the end, a promoted side from the Premier League was able to pay more money and higher salary than us, a top-four side in Germany,"

said Carro.

Spanish clubs look to have suffered from the talent drain too. This week, financially stricken Barca, as well as Sevilla, exited the Champions League. While Atletico and Villarreal progressed by the skin of their teeth.

While English sides will understandably enjoy this period of domination, one wonders if it is for the best of the overall health of European football?

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