And so, as the last embers of Chelsea’s Champions League fight were extinguished on Wednesday, the last realistic hope for England in this year’s Champions League disappeared. Whilst Man City and Arsenal could conceivably overturn the odds and reach the quarter-finals, it is looking increasingly likely that no UK team will be representing during the latter stages of Europe’s top table. The question is, what has gone wrong?
If we cast our minds back just 10 years we will remember ‘that night’ in Istanbul, as Liverpool went all the way and won the coveted club trophy. We’ll also remember that Arsenal managed to reach the final the following year. That Man Utd and Chelsea contested the final in 2008. That United again reached the final in 2009 and 2011, losing both times to an imperious Barcelona. And finally, that Chelsea managed to clinch the trophy in 2012.
When one considers the very recent and successful history that British clubs have had in the Champions League, it seems increasingly odd that they have fallen from grace so quickly. To go from regular final appearances to nowhere near the semi-finals is quite some transformation, and English football fans will no doubt be concerned about what that says about the state of English football.
Whilst it is difficult to establish a definitive reason why the English clubs have struggled in recent years, it won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the Premier League no longer seems capable of keeping and retaining the world’s very best.
It was a number of years ago now that Cristiano Ronaldo departed Manchester, while Lionel Messi never seems to have been tempted to go and play in Britain. Ibrahimovic appears happy in France, and Robben and Ribery seem extremely content in Germany. In short, the Premier League no longer seems to have the pulling power that once made it such a desirable place to come and play football, and it seems clear that this has had an impact on the league’s ability to stand toe to toe with the best sides in Europe.
There is a sense in which one feels that City should be dining at Europe’s top table more frequently, but the reality is that they are a side starting to stagnate a little, whilst Liverpool and United are a long way from being able to compete. The London clubs – Arsenal and Chelsea – appear to have the best chance, but both have been undone by supposedly inferior clubs when it has really mattered this year in Europe.
So what can be done? Will England be able to lure more of the world’s best to its shores? Who can tell? What we do know is that until the world beaters start returning to the Premier League – the Ronaldos, Henrys, Bergkamps and so on – English football fans will have to get used to the last 16 being the sum total of their ambition.