Thursday, April 12, 2007
No Big Deal
A seismic shift in European football, then?
Hardly, although Tony Palumbo couldn't resist teasing Craig Foster by paying exaggerated tribute to the "achievement" during SBS's quarter-final broadcast this morning.
In 2000, shortly after Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia had all qualified for the semi-finals of the competition, there appeared an article in World Soccer entitled "Spain's success is no big deal". It was penned by...the magazine's Spain correspondent, Jeff King.
In it, he essentially argued that it was the quality of the individual teams, rather than of the league as a whole, that had contributed to their success.
It is essentially the same in the present case, in my opinion.
An ebullient Sir Alex Ferguson has now claimed that the presence of three English clubs in the last four is indeed an indication of the supremacy of the Premiership in Europe. But one particular statement of his exposes the fallacy of the whole argument:
"The competitive nature and the quality of the English game has improved over the seasons."
Competitive? If Fergie is referring to the attitude of the players, well, English players have never lacked grit, and the foreign players who thrive in the Premiership tend to possess such qualities as well. But is the league really that competitive?
One glance at the league table tells the story. A whopping twenty-two points between first and fourth, compared, for instance, with six in Spain (where the big two have both had up-and-down seasons).
The top few have pulled well away from the pack in England, just as was the case in Spain some years ago. The bloated nature of the Champions' League and the consequent neverending stream of TV revenue for the top clubs has made its inevitable mark on the top leagues of Europe.
It is the top teams that have really raised their game.
The Italian success of 2003 was as transient as the Spanish dominance of three years earlier. I felt at the time that the Italian clubs in question (Milan, Inter and Juventus), had, for once, had the sense to allow their coaches time to build teams. Only a short time before, the managerial merry-go-round in Italy had reached absurd proportions.
Now, it's the elite English clubs who have managed to combine home-grown qualities with the expertise of successful coaches from the continent, and are reaping the rewards.
In truth, the big three leagues have reached a sort of equilibrium; the Premiership is somewhat richer across the board than the other two, while Spain and Italy are still, for cultural and linguistic reasons, more congenial destinations for the top South American players.
It's Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea this year. It could just as well be Real Madrid, Barca and Sevilla next season.
It's no big deal.
FWIW I interpreted Sir Al's comments re competitiveness in the EPL as being related to the 'grit' that you mention. It is a long bow to draw to say that English PL is now *the* league of quality in europe - I wonder what the coverage of continental football is in the UK?
When did it become more important to be watching the team rather than the league? Someone want to pinpoint a year 1901? 1959? 1991? 1996?
Give me the Championship....scratch that, the A-League will do fine.
here's to the continuing development of the a-league. v2 was a lot more fun than v1.
Nowadays I watch a roughly equal amount of EPL and La Liga and the depth of the latter is certainly a key point. It's said that the current La Liga title race is one nobody seemingly wants to win given the level of inconsistency at the top but for mine it's come from the competitiveness across the board, although Barca's own troubles this season have admittedly played their part in keeping the race up for grabs.
Of course, Sevilla, Osasuna and Espanyol will probably all lose their UEFA Cup ties a few hours after I've posted this.
Yep, I've always gotten the impression that La Liga has a bit more strength in depth. The UEFA Cup isn't a bad barometer that way, I suppose.