This weekends UEFA Champions League final may herald a changing of the guard at the top of the European football table.
Although no club has won the trophy twice in succession since the fabulous Milan side of the late eighties, the competition does have cycles where teams from one country dominate. Italian clubs, for example, dominated the tournament throughout the nineties until Spanish clubs, notably Valencia & Real Madrid, took over and they were then followed by English clubs. Liverpool’s thrilling, come from behind victory in 2005 started a run of five consecutive finals involving English clubs. Although only two of those finals were won, the semi finals regularly involved two or more English clubs. This year though, not one English club made it even that far. Despite Italy’s dominance in the nineties, Internazionale – one of the most well known clubs in the world – are appearing in their first final in 38 years, whilst Bayern Munich are the first German club to make the final since Bayer Leverkusen in 2002.
Its an interesting conundrum that at a time when the Premiership is becoming more competitive than ever, English clubs internationally are waning. After years of dominating the league, the “big four” have had their monopoly broken. Liverpool of course slipped down to seventh with Tottenham taking their coveted Champions League spot, edging out Manchester City in the penultimate game of the season. With the money that is available to them, we can expect City to improve on this seasons fifth position, next year, and that suggests that there is a good chance that another of the “big four” may follow Liverpool.
Ironic too, that with Fabio Capello at the helm, England consider next months world cup to be their best chance of winning the trophy in forty years, although they came moderately close in Italy in 1990. Of course, football followers are used to England declaring that “this year is our year”. Before this years failure in Europe – and yes I am aware of Fulhams great run, but who really takes the Europa League seriously? – things did seem to be falling into place for England. Their club sides were dominating internationally and a sprinkling of excellent players such as Lampard, Rooney, Defoe and Gerrard seemed to be coming to their peaks at the right time whilst new blood in the form of Lennon & Walcott were thriving.
With the world cup being played in winter, the Brazilians & Argentines who thrive in warmer summer temperatures no longer have that advantage. This must surely give the European nations a great opportunity to win the trophy outside their home continent for the first time. The draw has been kind for England too. Should they win their group they would meet Serbia or Ghana in the second round and then probably France or Nigeria in the quarterfinals. They could realistically expect to get to the last four without meeting a team ranked in the top 10!!
Is this seasons champions league failure a pointer towards failure for England? Time will tell, but it does seem that perhaps English club sides have passed their peak. Other outside influences are having a negative effect too. The John Terry/Wayne Bridge scandal resulted in the latter withdrawing from the squad and the former losing form to such a degree that his previously secure place is now doubtful. This week the FA have had to issue apologies to the Spanish and Russian FA’s following comments made by 2018 bid leader David Triesman, implying that those nations were conspiring to bribe referees….more negativity. Add into the mix doubts about the fitness of John Terry & Wayne Rooney and suddenly morale starts to drop even further.
Mind you, back in 2006 the Italian side played under the cloud of a bribery scandal and they didn’t do badly did they?