Thursday, April 12, 2007

 

No Big Deal

Three English clubs in the final four of the Champions' League then - an echo of 2000 (three teams from La Liga in the semis) and 2003 (three from Serie A).

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.

Comments:
Hey Mikey

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?
 
The growing gulf is the real problem here. Articles popping up discussing how your club needs a billionaire American to get you to the table with the big boys.

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.
 
so what makes a good league? i would raise these characteristics. the quality and attacking nature of football across the league. the size of the crowds (and atmosphere). the number of competitive matches each week. the number of teams in the chase for the title. the number of teams playing negative football in an effort to avoid the drop / get a uefa cup spot. the size of the points gap between 1st and last place. the number of teams with reasonable goal totals. to me it sounds like the germans can be pretty happy with their comp. so too can fans of clubs in the english championship. and maybe the dutch. none of the leagues i have mentioned are likely to win the champions league (the english 2nd tier isn't in the running anyway), nor will they win the unofficial competition for world's sexiest football league, but i think fans in these leagues can be pretty happy. i'll be working in japan soon, so i'll get a chance to see the j-league close up. i know they are only stats, but the goal totals from last year show a broad spread of goals across the league. whether that equals entertainment, i dunno, but i am curious to find out.

here's to the continuing development of the a-league. v2 was a lot more fun than v1.
 
I agree that its not a reflection of the league, but what it is a reflection of is that English clubs are finally catching up on the continent. Ever since the ban on them was rescinded, they've struggled to have a consistent impact on Europe. Even my beloved great ManU team of the late 90s was extremely fortunate and nowhere near the best team that season. But in the last 3/4 seasons we've seen the giants of English football finally catch up to and become capable of going toe-to-toe with the big continental clubs.
 
Brief BBC article/comment which I go along with:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/606/A21674586

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.
 
Three winners
 
...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....

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.
 
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