Can English Clubs Dominate European Football?

There was a time when English clubs seemed to be the best in Europe. The major European competitions were consistently being won by the likes of Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Manchester United. It seemed that English clubs could do no wrong.

But the ban that followed the Heysel Stadium disaster saw a period of time when English teams weren’t facing major European rivals. There’s no doubt that, in footballing terms, this saw the top English clubs falling behind. For a number of years, it appeared as though the best club sides in Europe were to be found in Italy.

Even enthusiasts in this country couldn’t help but admire the cultured, multi-national teams that were representing AC Milan, for instance. Gradually, however, things started to swing back in favour of the English giants. Money poured into the Premier League and it wasn’t long before Manchester United and Liverpool were back ruling the European game.

With rich owners appearing at Chelsea and Manchester City, it seemed that English football was set to dominate once again, just as it had done twenty years ago. But things aren’t quite that simple. Over in Spain, a fantastic team has emerged in the city of Barcelona. Already having defeated Manchester United in two Champions League finals, the Barcelona team is being held up as an example of one of the great footballing sides of any generation.

Now, questions are suddenly being asked again. Can the best English teams recover and really compete? On the one hand, it can be argued that the finances available to the big Premier League sides should ensure that they can continue to be powerful. While this may be the case, there are certainly problems on the horizon.

The Premier League (established 20 years ago) has brought many financial benefits. It’s recognised throughout the world as a competition that offers an example of how sport and money can be combined. To a certain extent, the money has been shared between member clubs. The most successful clubs have received a larger share of the income, but it’s clear that things could have been very different.

To see how much different, we can simply look to Spain. In that country, the individual clubs have been able to negotiate their own television deals. This has created a real split, with the two biggest football clubs in Spain (Real Madrid and Barcelona) becoming even richer. They are now able to generate the sort of incomes that even threaten their rich English opponents.

Unless there’s a change in the way that the money is distributed in the Premier League, it seems that Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and the rest may have finally met their match. Should this concern domestic fans? Some won’t be too worried. There’s always a tendency to focus on rivalries that are a little closer to home.

However things turn out, it seems clear that the next decade will see some significant changes. The world will be watching.

Chelsea Set to Dominate European Football

There is a new heavyweight force in European football, they are being bankrolled seemingly by the Russian economy, they mean business, and their name is Chelsea F.C. Chelsea Football Club have always been a decent club in the second strata of English clubs. In London alone Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have invariably been ahead of the Chelsea Blues, even West Ham have often put Chelsea in the shade. But no longer, for in the season 2004-2005, Chelsea won the English Premier League title for the first time in fifty years, their only previous winning season.

But they haven’t stopped there, in the new season 2005-2006 they are already well clear in the title race leaving all their rivals gasping, and now they have set their sights on the pinnacle of all the club trophys, the European Champions League. Chelsea have never won the Champions League, indeed no London club ever has. And it is clear that their charismatic manager Jose Mourinho is intent on winning the Champions League again, he did so with his previous club Porto, of Portugal.

So what of the traditional English giants? Manchester United, often described as the world’s richest football club, have fallen into the hands of the Glazer family of Tampa Bay fame, but they reportedly needed to borrow half a billion pounds to buy United, a debt the club now shoulders. Spending on new players has so far been thin on the ground and United’s brusque Glaswegian manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has admitted that United, for so long England’s most successful club, cannot compete with Chelsea when it comes to buying players. The hordes of United fans are not amused, the natives are growing restless.

Arsenal, London’s biggest and most successful club, lost their skipper and driving force Patrick Vieira last summer, he moved to Juventus in Italy for £12 million pounds and with their star striker Thierry Henry suffering fitness problems, they picked up some uncharacteristic defeats at unfashionable clubs like West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough. This is their last season at their famous old Highbury Stadium before they move to their new purpose built Emirates stadium almost next door. The increased capacity of 60,000 will undoubtedly give their French manager Arsene Wenger more money to spend next year, but of course they have to pay for that new ground too. Far from challenging Chelsea again, it would seem that Arsenal are more likely to fall further behind.

That leaves Liverpool and Newcastle. News comes through just today that the American Kraft Company and family are interested in investing in Liverpool F.C., perhaps even buying the club outright just like Manchester United fifty miles up the road, but that is some way down the line. And they too are seeking to build a brand new stadium on Stanley Park and of course that all costs big money. Despite last year’s freakish win in the Champion’s League, Liverpool’s league form this season has again been patchy, and that included a 4-1 walloping by Chelsea on their own Anfield pitch. The idea that Liverpool might challenge Chelsea for the title remains a far-fetched one. Newcastle, England’s second best supported club are gradually improving, and they have signed England’s centre forward Michael Owen, but they still remain unconvincing at the top level. They haven’t won the title since Noah was seen building his ark, or so it seems, and they aren’t going to do so this season either.

So though it is very popular for foreign investors to snap up the leading English (and Scottish) football clubs, it appears that only Roman Abramovich at Chelsea has the financial muscle to buy the best players around. He is the only one to put unlimited funds on the table. Top class players now command a transfer fee of £40 million each and whereas Manchester United might afford one of them a season, Chelsea’s purse seems bottomless. They have already spent £220+ million and are still in the market to buy again when the transfer window re-opens in January.

They have already achieved success by winning at home, now the European Champion’s League is the Holy Grail for them, a trophy they are now the outright favourites to win with the odds layers. And astonishingly they have achieved their success to date with an array of strikers who haven’t really cut the mustard. Mutu the Romanian, was promptly sacked for drug taking, Crespo the Argentinian, was sent out to Milan on loan last season, and though he is back now he is hardly setting the world afire,or even playing that often, Gudjohnson an Icelander, plays more often than not, the muscular Drogba from the Ivory Coast, seems to have finally claimed the number nine shirt as his own, yet many blues followers still remain unconvinced about him, so it would seem likely that Chelsea may yet be looking for another proven goal scorer come January, especially after a recent rare defeat at Manchester United.

It would take a brave man to back against Chelsea in any competition at the moment. But if you’d like to, you can still have a free $30 dollar bet at Betfair.com by entering the code 6CHE3VPWJ when prompted. But one thing is for sure; no one would be surprised if this time next year the Premier League trophy AND the Champions League trophy were both on display in the Chelsea boardroom. It seems that only the Italian giants Milan and Juventus, and the Spanish top two, Real Madrid, and most especially Barcelona with their Brazilian superstar, surely soon to be the world player of the year, Ronaldinho, might stop the London blues. It really does seem as if we have entered a new era in European and world football, or if you prefer the ridiculous name that no one ever uses, Soccer. Chelsea fans have never had it so good while everyone else is left gasping in their wake, for it is a fact that Chelsea Football Club have raised the bar for everyone else to follow. Time will tell if anyone can.

The Unseen Threat From Europe – the Premier League’s Dominance of European Football is in Danger

So, Manchester United look like they are going to win the Premier League title again. And with Chelsea dying a slow death in West London and Arsenal constantly shooting themselves in the foot, while Liverpool argue with their own manager, can anyone challenge them?

The Reds one-sided success (this year would make it 11 wins out of 17) in the English Premier League puts the league in danger of turning itself into an Eastern European backwater-type league where a single team is dominant for decades, as the rest of the country scratches around for scraps. The red herring this season is Aston Villa, who have broken into the top four, but is that because they have improved to meet the top four, or is it that the three below Man Utd are drifting down to meet them?

The fact that the top tier in the English league has an obvious second league of teams nowhere near good enough to challenge for anything other than mid-table obscurity, underline the crossroads English football appears to be at.

Of course, there’s the money. Last week it was announced that Sky accidentally blew Setanta out of the water and took five out of six Premier League TV packages by upping their bid to £1.4bn over three years. All good for clubs who can continue to throw money at players in a bid for the Holy Grail of football, a place in the top four .
But that money is only the base on which the big clubs are building their brands – and Man Utd’s success is such that they are in danger of getting too big for British football. A survey last year suggested that United had 333m fans worldwide compared with 75m in 2003. Clearly, success is paying off globally – one only has to look at the growing percentage of southeast Asian fans popping up at Old Trafford for visual evidence.
 
Man Utd’s dominance would not threaten “Brand Premier League” on its own: what the English leagues should be really worried about is that the rest of Europe appears to be getting its act together. As TV pays the bills, and global branding pays for the pretty dresses, any danger to Brand Premier on the world stage will be disastrous, particularly as the world lurches into a financial crisis.

The four big leagues (France, Italy, Spain and Germany) are in the midst of becoming more exciting by the week, with competition at the top and engaging action at the bottom, with a little quality, too. There finances appear to be improving rapidly, too. France’s Ligue 1 has seven teams vying for the title this year: perhaps because the team that has dominated for a decade, Lyon, has not had the global branding Man Utd has had. And the French leagues hit the jackpot in 2005 when a bidding war put the price of TV packages at £1.6bn – almost on a par with the Premier League.

Last year, the German Bundesliga took over the English Premiership’s mantle as the league making the most money out of shirt sponsorship: a small part of a club’s overall revenue but significant in that it suggests how bankable the league is in terms of marketability.
A year ago a rather doom-laden Spanish La Liga was looking at multiple bankruptcies as economists warned that clubs had radically overspent to keep up with Real Madrid and Barcelona. But the fact that Spain has two clubs bigger than Man Utd means that it will always be more competitive on a global market. It also has the advantage that there are more football-mad nations that speak Spanish than English-speaking nations.
 
The fate of Italian clubs, meanwhile, should serve as a warning for the money-bloated Premier League. For years they fed on bloated cheques from rich owners – often local companies done good or senior politicians or Italian oligarchs. Now it doesn’t look so good. Juventus has been dropped a league and since returned, while many other clubs suffered from wage bills hitting 85% of income. Now, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Clubs like Napoli, which suffered from the previous wage profligacy (Maradona and Paul Gascoigne the highest profile luxuries), are back in the black and highflying in Serie A.  Oh, and Italy still has four of the top 20 richest clubs in Europe.

Perhaps more importantly is the strong support in Italy for a salary cap which, if implemented, will drive Italian clubs back up to the top in Europe.
 
If the Premier League continues on its current path, three things could happen:

1) Of course, everything could work out fine, with the money levelling off as Brand Premier begins to help every club in the league. Competition becomes more intense, the world is hooked,

2) Man Utd continue to dominate and the fans slowly but surely switch off. United decides it doesn’t want to share the TV money so, as the only show in town, decides to break away from the TV package and sell itself. With little or no competition at home European action becomes more important. The spectre of a European super league raises its ugly head again.

3) Brand Premier goes the way of Italy: money breeds corruption, breeds alienation and eventually the English falls into a bitter sea of fear, court cases and recriminations. Millions worldwide switch back to a revitalized Serie A and La Liga and the old world order is duly re-established.
 
Sepp Blatter allows himself a quiet, triumphant smile.