Before I begin this article, I beg your forgiveness. You see, I know that this weekend night saw one of the most pulsating encounters of the season, with Barcelona finally running away with it against a talented Juventus side.
But I’m not going to write about that. Well, not totally anyway.
You see, as an English football fan, I watched the game between Juve and Barca with an equal blend of enjoyment and jealousy. Enjoyment, because this is what football is all about. Jealousy, because the level of play that was on display in Berlin on Saturday is in stark contrast to pretty much all the football we get to watch in England.
The triumvirate talents of Suarez, Neymar and Messi didn’t fail us, and we witnessed a Barca master-class for much of the match. Meanwhile, their Italian counterparts, not to be left out, were also exemplary in their own counter-attacking fashion. The match was, quite literally, end to end; and although you’d be hard-pressed to suggest that Juve were on the same level as Barcelona, it was pretty difficult not to be impressed by the skill level on display.
The question for me now is, how we can get an English team up to something approaching the level of play the Spanish and Italian giants produced on Saturday?
English teams have won the European Cup; in fact, they’ve even won in recent years, but if I’m being brutally honest, when Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have been crowned the victors, it has always felt a little bit hollow. This is not to say that they haven’t deserved it, but that they have not been indisputably the best team on the continent in the way that Barcelona unquestionably are at present.
So, what needs to change? Well, perhaps it’s our mindset. Chelsea were the last English side to win the Champions League and they achieved that feat while boring every non-Blue to tears. And yet, they were happy with that. And while it’s difficult to blame them, there is a large part of me that thinks that maybe we should be wanting more.
We shouldn’t just be wanting to ambush a side, pinch a goal on the counter attack and park the bus for the rest of the match. We should be wanting to go out, play our own game and win in style, in precisely the way that Barcelona did this year and Real Madrid the year before.
So, which of our sides could deliver this complete footballing performance that satisfies the fans and punters alike?
Perhaps, surprisingly, it’s not the best team in the Premier League, Chelsea. Jose’s side will win by hook or by crook, but are perhaps the most defensive side in the top six. It’s unlikely to be Liverpool, or Spurs, perhaps mostly down to the fact that both sides have regressed to the point where they aren’t even competing in the EPL anymore.
It could be City, but for whatever reason, the Citizens just don’t seem comfortable in Europe – despite the plethora of talent available to them.
To me, if an English side is going to dominate Europe, and truly prove themselves to be the best, it is going to be either Manchester United or Arsenal, with the latter being much less likely. Both sides play in a way that says, “We’re going to play our football, and if we’re better than you, we win”, and that’s precisely the way that very best sides play.
For English football to flourish in Europe, we need a team that is prepared to go out and make a statement, to play like they’re the best and prove to everyone that they are. Let’s hope it happens before too long.