Off the pitch, it’s a different story – worries mount for top English sides

With England continuing their dominance of the Champions League, Killian Woods examines the state of football in mainland Europe.AS WE ENTER the fi nal stages of the Champions League, yet again a common cliché has come to the fore – ‘English domination in Europe’. It almost seems to be a given as media and fans alike expect Champions League success. Though, can this annual success be maintained?Even if an English club fails to win Europe’s top competition this year, it would be hard to look back on this season as a failure. If we rewind the clock one year to this stage of last season we will see that nothing much has changed. There are the same four English clubs in the quarter-fi - nals of the Champions League with two of them pairing off against each other.The statistics spell out that the Premiership is the best league in Europe and the world. Its top clubs play the most intense style of football. They consistently beat clubs from other elite leagues and its current champions are holders of the Champions League and World Club Cup. However, is this success down to the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool being the best, or the best of the worst?The displays by the Italian teams were embarrassing to say the least. Their three clubs could only muster up three goals between them in nearly 600 minutes of football. Whereas, the La Liga champions, who had only conceded two goals all year prior to facing Liverpool, opened the fl ood gates and conceded fi ve.This kind of European success has been observed in the past. In the mid- Nineties, Italian clubs ruled this illustrious competition reaching fi nals in several consecutive seasons. However, they could not preserve this supremacy. It also looks like Anglo dominance only has so long, as the new FIFA regulations and the oncoming recession begin, to take their toll on English football.
“The downfall of Leeds United is the most documented, while Valencia CF seems to be showing similar signs”
Right now it is a matter of which dilemma arises fi rst. The perception of Premier League offi cials that their league is recession proof is debatable. All but Arsenal, of the four English clubs in the quarter fi nals of the Champions League are using huge debts incurred by foreign owners to ride this wave of success. At some stage this debt will become unmanageable and may result in big clubs being unable to pay players’ wages.These scenarios are arising all over Britain and mainland Europe. The downfall of Leeds United is the most documented, while Valencia CF seems to be showing similar signs. Already €400 million in debt, the Spanish club were forced to sell part of their stadium to pay their playing staff members’ wages and are already planning a summer sale of their best players.Yet, football can survive this recession. The German Bundesliga has successfully managed to weather this economic storm so far. Their league boasts the best average match attendances in Europe thus increasing revenue. Also at the start of each season, privately hired accountants inspect clubs books and if the club is any form of debt they are banned from partaking in the league.If this concept were to be applied to the Premiership next season, we would be seeing a Premier League without Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool to name a few.In the end, during an economic recession people prioritise what is an essential item and what is a luxury. The main revenue of the Premier League comes from selling television rights of their matches to digital television services for over one billion pounds sterling. This revenue may disappear as people aim to save money by cancelling their sports packages.Without the English clubs getting their annual £20 million from television rights, they will be no longer in a position to pay better wages than other leagues in Europe and attract the top players. There are tough times ahead for English football with the incoming FIFA regulations making life harder all round.The season commencing 2012/2013 could be the fi nal straw for the Premier League’s top teams. By then FIFA’s 6+5 proposal of having six players eligible to play for the national team of the country of the club starting each match will be in motion. When these changes come into effect, no amount of money will be able to preserve the Premiership’s domination.English clubs will then struggle to fulfi l the 6+5 quota. If the ruling were to be applied today, most Premiership sides would be weakened due to the lack of English talent. In the last round of the Champions League, only eleven English players took the fi eld of which Arsenal fi elded only one.Though the future looks bleak, the present is promising. May 2007 was the last time an English club was knocked out of the Champions League by a foreign team. It may be make or break for United’s defence of the European crown this week after Porto’s impressive 2-2 fi rst leg draw at Old Trafford, but should the champions prevail in Portugal it would be a safe bet to say that there will be three English sides in the semi-fi nals of the Champions League for the the second consecutive season. Like last year, it seems that only Barcelona can stop this year’s Champions League winner being English.