13 March, 2008

England is the Best?

We have 4 teams in the last 8 of the Champions League so that kind of goes without saying right? Last year we achieved a similarly impressive feat and had 3 teams in the last 4 of the competition, but could the unthinkable happen this year in the tournament’s third round to leave 4 English semi-finalists and guarantee a winner from our fine shores? I think most in the know would agree that Schalke will pose little threat against whoever they play next, and baring a miracle, Fenerbahce shouldn’t progress any further, so that leaves just Roma and Barcelona in England’s way it seems.

Now there’s no doubting the quality of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool; historically they are the most successful English clubs, and for the last 5 years especially, have dominated both the Premier League and the domestic cup competitions. However, the coaches are French, Scottish, Israeli and Spanish, and between the starting XIs in the Champions League second legs, there were just 10 English players. That’s under a quarter for those who slept through Maths at school, with Arsenal not fielding a single one until Woolcott’s introduction with less than twenty minutes to go. Benitez played Carragher and Gerrard for Liverpool, while Man United (Ferdinand, Brown, Carrick and Rooney) and Chelsea (Terry, A Cole, Lampard and J Cole) started with 4-a-piece.

It is therefore ridiculous for the press to once again hail the brilliance of ‘English’ football; we are becoming increasingly more and more just like the hosts. If a band plays a great gig, do you congratulate the stadium and administrative staff for being the best in the world? No, the venue’s incidental really isn’t it? England is that venue, and the Premier League the advertisers if you will, telling the world where you can see Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres. It is great for the league that they are here, it’s great for the clubs and for the fans too, but to them it’s a job. They aren’t here because they love the English game, or want to help return us to a strong international force, they just want professional success and more money than they could ever spend. The crucial fact linking the four clubs in the Champions League last 8 isn’t that they’re English, it’s that they have smart managers and bottomless coffers should they be required.

I have no problem with Arsenal not fielding English players, that’s how it is these days, and if it was a choice between seeing Bacary Sagna at right-back or Justin Hoyte then it’s a no brainer. It’s just frustrating though when we as a nation get caught up in this media hysteria and start believing our own hype. We have failed in every major tournament in the last 42 years, and did not even qualify for this year’s event, so how can anything connected with English football be a success? The Premier League is exciting because it’s multi-national and cosmopolitan, but as homegrown percentages continue to drop, it can no longer be linked with so-called English triumph. Our country is a platform for talent no doubt, but self-congratulatory circle-jerks are pointless when the only truly successful clubs are the foreign-owned, foreign-managed and foreign-populated ones.