x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Uefa Champions League: English Premier League still strong in Europe

Arsenal are the only English side left in the Uefa Champions League, but that does not mean clubs from other countries, barring Germany, have caught up.

Roundly beaten at home in the first leg, Arsenal, in red, face the prospect of bowing out of the Uefa Champions League tonight. Eddie Keogh / Reuters
Roundly beaten at home in the first leg, Arsenal, in red, face the prospect of bowing out of the Uefa Champions League tonight. Eddie Keogh / Reuters

Unless Arsenal pull off the comeback of all comebacks, there will be no Premier League team in the last eight of the Champions League for the first time since 1996.

Presumably battlements are shaking, thrones are crumbling and a horrified sun is averting its face from the hideous spectacle. The end of days is nigh.

At least, that is how some seem to be portraying it; and perhaps it is the fault of the Premier League, in all its arrogance and insularity, that so many seem to greet the prospect of its decline with such glee.

It is not really true, though.

Of course a failure to produce any quarter-finalists is a blow for a league that likes to think of itself as the best in the world. Of course the re-emergence of Germany's Bundesliga as a serious force – at last – changes the dynamic, but a little perspective is required. There has, clearly, been a retreat from the period between 2007 and 2009 when the Premier League provided nine out of 12 semi-finalists – and from the wider point of view of European football, a good thing too.

Of course, Barcelona had been the pre-eminent side since 2009 and their closest challengers last year were Real Madrid.

But to portray this as some kind of slump is absurd.

Seven of the last nine finals have featured a Premier League side (they have been contested by just eight different teams, four of them from the Premier League).

The defending champions are a Premier League side. Three of the top six ranked sides in the Uefa coefficients are from the Premier League. The Premier League began the season top of the Uefa coefficient tables. It has slipped back to second and could – conceivably – fall behind the Bundesliga for next season, but there are still three Premier League teams in the Europa League who could accrue points.

And even were the Premier League to slip to third, so what? The drop to Italy in fourth (the top three leagues get four teams in the Champions League; third to sixth get three) is so big that it would take no Premier League team to win a single game in European competition next season for Serie A to overhaul it.

Besides which, there are specific reasons for the underperformance of English clubs, not just this season, but last.

Manchester City are perhaps the biggest. With no recent European history themselves, their coefficient is low and so they has been seeded low in the draw for the group stage (admittedly a problem also faced by Borussia Dortmund).

The result has been two tough groups and that has meant poor performances have been punished leading to two early exits.

Arsenal and Chelsea have both had troubled seasons – and Chelsea only finished sixth in the Premier League last season, qualifying by, freakishly, winning the competition – and that has affected their form.

Who knows whether Manchester United would have finished the job against Real Madrid had Nani not been harshly sent off, but either way, they came within a whisker of beating the tournament favourites.

A new television deal worth over £1 billion (Dh5.48bn) per season - up 71 per cent on the existing deal - kicks in next year.

There has, perhaps, been some retrenchment over the past three to four years in English football – Xabi Alonso, explaining his move from Liverpool to Real Madrid, spoke in 2009 of how the falling pound and (now abolished) 50 per cent tax band for high earners had effective driven his earnings down by a third.

The German resurgence has come on the back of Germany's renewed economic power – something demonstrated by the fact that, thanks to sponsorship deals with the likes of Deutsche Telecom, Adidas, Paulaner Brewery, Audi, Coca-Cola, Samsung, Siemens, Burger King, Continental and Sheraton, Bayern Munich's commercial revenue last year amounted to £201.6m, the highest of any club in the world.

With most of the Eurozone still in crisis, though – there is even been talk that Barcelona and Real Madrid might have to reduce their enormous debts – it is the Premier League that is operating from a position of strength.

A changing of the guard may have prompted a blip but for the Premier League the long-term prognosis is exceptionally healthy.


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