By Samuel Danker, first year History
While Britain is currently enduring a complex relationship with Europe politically, the same cannot be said from a footballing perspective, with four English teams safely into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
This achievement draws a sharp contrast to English teams’ fortunes in the competition in recent years, with just one English winner in the previous ten years a disappointing showing for what is often labelled the best league in the world. But can we really describe these recent achievements as contributing to a ‘renaissance’ in English footballing fortunes in Europe?
There is clearly something to be said for an improvement of English teams in the Champions League, having definitely underperformed in the last ten years. In the last-16, Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs got the better of Schalke, Bayern and Dortmund respectively, putting in mature performances to secure their places in the quarters. The convincing nature of the English teams’ victories in these ties provides encouragement about their chances of lifting the trophy in June. While Manchester United only narrowly made it past PSG, thanks to a controversial VAR penalty, they have looked like a refreshed team under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. These performances make encouraging viewing for English teams, but there is still a long way to go, with United facing Barcelona and Spurs playing City. Talk of English dominance might have to be put on hold depending on the results of the last-16.
Those sceptical of labelling the achievements of English clubs in this season’s Champions League as a ‘renaissance’ may be justified. A single English Champions League winner in the last ten years is surely evidence of the Premier League sides’ underachievement on the continental stage. It could be argued then, that this season’s English quarter-finalists are merely living up to the expectations that come with being among the richest teams in Europe.
According to Deloitte’s annual report into club revenues, six Premier League teams made up the top ten in 2018. Such financial dominance will inevitably attract better quality players, which should in turn bring silverware. However, with Manchester City spending an eye-watering £1.3 billion on transfers since 2010, and Liverpool and Manchester United spending around £925 million respectively, their relative lack of European success during this period seems worrying.
Yet, it is undoubtable that the fortunes of Premier League sides in Europe this season are improving, with managers Klopp, Guardiola, Pochettino and Solskjaer all drastically improving their teams. Liverpool, City and Spurs all have longer-term managers, suggesting that managerial stability is a contributing factor to the marked improvement of these clubs’ performances. With Pep Guardiola having won the competition twice while at Barcelona, his City team look perhaps the most likely of the English teams to go all the way.
However, serious obstacles remain before we can get excited about a period of English dominance. The eye-catching names left in the competition are obviously Juventus and Barcelona, and they will be a real test of the quality of the English teams if and when they come up against them. The thankless task of keeping out Messi and Ronaldo constantly makes defenders sweat, but it is something any English team will have to do if they are to have a chance of winning the Champions League.
To label this current period as a ‘renaissance’ in English footballing fortunes in Europe seems premature nonetheless. English teams have a lot to do if they are to be considered in the same bracket as European giants such as Barcelona and Real Madrid, who have both won the competition regularly in recent years. This season is perhaps the best chance to demonstrate the resurgence of English football in Europe, but one of United, City, Liverpool or Spurs must get their hands on the trophy in Madrid on 1st June in order to prove it.
Featured Image - Flickr / Prakash
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