The real threat to EPL's European success

Martin Rogers

European soccer chief Michel Platini couldn't do it. Nor could the combined forces of the finest Serie A and La Liga have to offer.

But the beginning of the end of the English clubs' stranglehold over the UEFA Champions League could have been set in motion by an unexpected source.

Britain's Chancellor Alastair Darling announced last week in his annual budget the implementation of a new, higher level of taxation on the general public. For most, the increase from 40 percent to 50 percent for those earning more than $225,000 is the kind of problem they would like to have. Yet for an elite minority, including virtually every footballer in England's top two divisions, it will make a significant difference to their pay packets.

Will it adversely impact the ability of English clubs to continue to snap up the finest talent available? Arsene Wenger thinks so. The Arsenal boss is adamant that a combination of the weakened pound sterling and the tax increase will allow other European nations to be more competitive when it comes to acquiring top-level players.

When asked if English clubs relied too heavily on imported players, Wenger said: "Don't worry, that time will soon be over because with the new taxation system and with the collapse of sterling … the domination of the Premier League will end."

The EPL still generates billions from revenue streams around the world, and there won't be too many tears shed by the man on the street for those who operate in soccer's cloistered corridors.

No one, Wenger included, is suggesting the EPL is going to crash and burn. It's just that the league may no longer have such heavy representation in the later stages of Europe's top club tournament.

This season, for the third year in a row, three of the four semifinalists come from England. This week in Spain, Italy and Germany, there will be a glimmer of hope that brighter times beckon.

Weekend First XI

1. Get him an Advil

Real Madrid defender Pepe landed himself in trouble with La Liga disciplinarians for his mindless decision to kick out twice at Javi Casquero as the Getafe striker lay prone on the field last Tuesday. Publicly, Madrid officials have backed the Portugal star and suggested the club may appeal his 10-match ban. But behind the scenes, the fiery 26-year-old is increasingly being considered a liability and Real may entertain offers for him in the summer.

2. Get him a beer

The concept of a player spending his entire career at one club is quickly becoming lost in today's money-obsessed soccer world. That is why the career of Ryan Giggs, fast approaching two decades with Manchester United, is so remarkable. But the most unusual thing about the 35-year-old is that he seems to continue to get better, so much so that he was named PFA Player of the Year by his EPL peers last week.

3. Get him some earplugs

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber managed to draw the ire of New York Yankees president Randy Levine for daring to comment on the presence of empty seats at early games in the new Yankee Stadium. Levine bit back with some acerbic and fairly inappropriate words aimed at belittling Garber and MLS, insisting the Yankees attract more fans in a year than the combined total of MLS clubs.

4. Four corners

• What does it take to keep fans away from Mexican soccer? Swine flu.

• What won't China do to win at sports?

• Is the mature and composed Mario Balotelli really just 18?

• Is Barcelona's name already written on the Champions League trophy?

5. Catch a flight to …

Barcelona. Take in the Catalan giant's Champions League semifinal first leg with Chelsea on Tuesday, then head over to the Spanish capital as Barca visit Real Madrid in a contest that could decide the La Liga title Saturday.

6. A round of applause for …

Energie Cottbus. The relegation-threatened German Bundesliga team caused one of the shocks of the season by beating leaders Wolfsburg 2-0 and opening up the title race.

7. Get them a Kleenex

Jose Mourinho. No one complains like the Special One and he was in fine form after Inter Milan lost to Napoli. "Napoli had no real chances, nor did the try, and they scored a great goal from nowhere," Mourinho whined.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Barry Ferguson. The bad-boy Scotland international has a series of offers in the Australian A-League to mull over as he prepares to leave Glasgow Rangers. But it is understood that he would prefer a switch to MLS.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

John Carver. The Toronto FC coach stepped down last week and will return to his native England. He cited personal reasons, believed to be related to his health, for his departure.

10. Get excited about …

The week ahead. Two mouthwatering Champions League semifinals and intriguing European club action – what's not to like?

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Take a look at Ilary Blasi, wife of Roma and Italy superstar Francesco Totti.