Before 1999 when Manchester United lifted the Champions League you had to go back to 1984 for another British winner when Liverpool won it. It then took another six years before another English side lifted the trophy (Liverpool again in what might have been the best final ever), but since then there has been a massive English domination at least one English finalist since the 2004-05 campaign. It’s easy to see that Europe’s biggest stage has never been more lopsided.
Don’t get me wrong, I always like to see English sides go through and do well, but I think what makes the competition so fantastic is when the rest of the Europe has a legitimate say as well. I don’t support one of the ‘top four’ teams, but when it comes to European football I will always follow the English sides. As an observer of the game though I want a bit more variety. When Liverpool drew Real Madrid the initial thoughts were it could be a tricky tie, but when Liverpool smashed Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate, was anyone really shocked? I know I wasn’t.
The real surprise is that we have no Italian representatives in the quarter-final stage of the competition. They all came up against English opponents and all of them were beaten thoroughly. Roma were only beaten by Arsenal on penalties, but if Arsenal had been more clinical in front of goal, especially in the first leg, they would have hammered them by a far greater margin.
So who still has a shot amongst the final eight? I’d put money money on Barcelona. They are probably the only side out of the four none English clubs left in the competition you can really see lifting the trophy. Perhaps Bayern Munich at a push (their record 12 goals in the last round was something to see) but I just can’t imagine Villareal or Porto getting any further than the next round (unless paired together of course).
As much as I love too see the English sides doing well and winning the competition it’s a shame to see Europe’s great clubs struggling against the Premier League opposition. When I first started following football the English league was a long way behind the rest of Europe, and it was rare that any English team advanced advanced at all.
Now though Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are expected to beat almost any other European side they come up against. This is great for the English game but perhaps not for the European game as a whole. In 1995 Ajax lifted the trophy with a side containing a large amount of players who had been brought through the club’s youth system, such as Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Ronald de Boers amongst others. In today’s game those players would have left for ‘bigger’ European clubs earlier in their career, and that’s why I can’t see the Dutch throwing out a winner anytime soon.
There may be more money in the Premier League but for teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus this shouldn’t make a massive difference. Looking at their team-sheets you can see they attract some of the world’s best talent, but they just haven’t worked out a way to deal with the pace in the Premier League sides. As much as I love seeing an English team lift the trophy at the end of the season I’d rather watch a final with one English team and one from La Liga or Serie A as opposed to two English sides. It just seems right to me.