Calling England a superpower in football seems to be a highly unjust statement, owing to their slump over the last decade. It’s like calling the West Indies a cricketing giant just because they used to be one, a few decades ago. (Unlike West Indies who seem to be excelling in the shortest format, England’s fortunes have gone from bad to worse) But what’s common in both these cases is the fact that there has hardly been any proof which substantiates the point that either of them is a giant in their own sport and the English to a more recognizable extent. England happens to be the nation that invented the game that it disappoints its’ people in and whilst we leave them aside, nearly every single major West-European nation has performed better by a mile.
The beginning of the end
Back in 2009, there would’ve been little doubt when saying that England or English clubs are a force to be reckoned with. The trio of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea progressed into the Champions League semi-finals and that happened to be the second consecutive year when three English clubs had made it to the final four of the biggest European club tournament on the planet. Manchester United went on to win the Champions League in 2008 and succumbed to an exceptional Barcelona team in the finals of the following year’s competition. And now that those times have been ensnared into the history books, it is the time that we let them rest where they are.
As it stood, only a single team from England- Man City made it to the Quarter-finals of the Champions League, last season. And they succumbed to a formidable Real Madrid side despite playing out a first leg draw at the Etihad. Arsenal went out to Barcelona, Chelsea went out to PSG and Manchester United went out to PSV and Wolfsburg. And this clearly suggests that English clubs are no match for the top clubs that oust them in countries like Spain, Germany or France. They come up against a Barcelona or a Bayern Munich and that’s the end of the road for them in Europe, doomed to try again, the following season. And the fact that this happens after every single tournament is clearly suggestive of the fact that something’s clearly wrong and wrong big time with English football right now.
Where does the problem lie?
Whenever one takes a look at teams such as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, apart from striking an alarm bell into one’s mind, these clubs know how they want to play. Barcelona and Bayern Munich play possession dominated football, while Real Madrid is comfortable with the counter-attacking style of football. But, what makes them a far better unit than the other European teams is flexibility in approaching games as they come. As soon as you turn your attention towards England, you hardly see that. The necessary amount of compromise that is to be done when coming against a European powerhouse is considerable, but something can well be thought of. Arsenal decides to flaunt their attractive vein of football against Barcelona and end up getting battered and bruised, never learning their lessons against Bayern Munich. It’s as if they need reminding that they’re not contesting in the Premier League, but on the European stage where teams know how to figure out and counter your playing style, as they’ve come up against teams like you already in their league. Chelsea adhered to their all-out defense tactic in 2012 under Roberto di Matteo and defied the odds to win the crown. Manchester United gave up their attractive brand of football against Barcelona in the 2008 semi-final and went on to win the title. It hasn’t got a nice ring to it, has it?
Playing smart isn’t something which will be found in the tactics of an English club. You’ll find their arrogance of sticking to their own game lingering in there and the stubborn inability to change, despite being stronger and fitter than the opposition.
And a lot of these shortcomings are down to what the club does in the transfer market too. While the infamously famous English media does its job of branding players as the ‘next Messi’ or the ‘next Ronaldo’, the players that actually are the next something end up jetting off to Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG or Bayern Munich. English clubs sign their supposed ‘next superstar’ for a hefty amount of fee, luring him with exorbitant wages and bring him to a foreign nation, where football is more brutal than in any other country. Bayern Munich signed Douglas Costa for a fee almost equivalent to that of Memphis Depay. And the rest is what the English media will then refer to as a ‘waste of cash’.
Even if an English club has a replica of a Ronaldo or a Messi, he’s signed by where the messiahs belong. And English clubs are left as mere spectators at what he achieves out there, remembering the times when he used to toil on their pastures. And that’s their only source of hope and happiness.
Due to all of this over hyping that the media does, the kids who give everything for the club at youth levels get denied of the opportunity that they would’ve got if it were the end of the 20th century. Gone are the days when every top notch Premier League team used to produce at least 3-4 players at their academy and used to give them first team opportunities. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United were experts in this field during the days of yore when the game wasn’t as commercialized as it is, these days.
There’s a lack of planning in the way English clubs spend too. They’ve failed to realize despite numerous examples in the past that spending the cash that you’ve yielded from one player’s sale can’t be spent on buying 5 or 6 players to replace him. Spurs failed miserably and so did Liverpool.
The traditional English arrogance
It’s become a league full of over rated, over paid non-English players, who have got nothing to lose by playing well or just as bad. Clubs get robbed by agents, who are more into making as much money as they can. Back in the aforementioned days, English clubs used to be a medley of British tenacity and overseas panache, but now it’s only full of the latter.
In the Premier League, fans love to get entertained and make sure that their league upholds the status of being the most competitive league in the world. Although, one does see comprehensive goals being scored once in three games, but how often do we see a goal-saving tackle from a defender or a defensive midfielder pulling off a crunching yet the fair challenge to win the ball back? That’s where another problem lies. The emphasis on an attack is slowly eroding the abilities of English clubs to defend. And foreign clubs take full advantage of the unorganized nature of their defenses to condemn them at will. The Arsenal team going forward is far better than the Atletico Madrid team, but quoting Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous anecdote will portray the real story:
“Attack wins you games, defense wins you titles”
And the soft underbelly of English clubs gets exposed whenever they come up against a recognizable European opponent.
The need of the hour
English fans say they invented the game, before having a peek at what their clubs do or ignoring what they’re doing on the European stage. Its mere ignorance and a cover from what their sides accomplish in Europe. And there seems to be a fault at every aspect you go through.
It won’t change until managers who know the tactical side of the game, such as Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, and Mauricio Pochetinno grace English clubs fully. They are managers who know football, top to bottom, tactics or transfers, scouting or selling deadwood. The reason why Sir Alex and Jose Mourinho have yielded so much success in Europe is because of their innate knowledge and ability to know the game inside out. They were flexible in their tactics, knew how to fiddle around with formations and could assess the true value of a match winner. With change being the only constant in sport and life, English clubs learning the same would do them and the English fans, a world of good.