This is the season that the rest of Europe had feared. English dominance in the Champions League through Manchester City and Chelsea and, just for good measure, the favourites to win the Europa League in Manchester United.
There are two points which will send shivers through the footballing citadels of Spain, Italy and Germany. First, the fact that this Anglo-centric campaign comes just two years after England provided all four finalists for Europe’s two major knockout competitions, which suggests this is beginning to be a trend and not an anomaly. And second, that all of England’s now infamous “Big Six” have made their mark at least once in recent years. There is depth to England’s talent pool which is unmatched on the continent.
Football is cyclical and nations and clubs dominate for periods of time: Real Madrid won the first five European Cups, Italian clubs won it four times in the 1960s, Ajax and then Bayern Munich three times in the 1970s and then, of course, the English clubs – Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa – before periods, again, of Italian, English and Spanish prominence.
But there has been nothing as comprehensive as this. Not just winning it, but monopolising the final.
It is what Europe was afraid of. A Premier League hegemony was what gave Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and the Milan clubs sleepless nights which, along with their own money problems, is partly why they pushed so hard for the formation of a European Super League, so they could try and rein them in with financial controls, caps, cartels and a share of the money.
It is also why the willingness of the English clubs to make such a blundering decision as to be involved in the ESL breakaway is so unfathomable. Such a strong, such a powerful, such a good and marketable product as the Premier League meant that one day the English clubs had to come out on top. It was basic economics. Finally that day has arrived.
For years the top European clubs would laugh at the wastefulness of the Premier League, where the lowest-ranked teams were earning four times from the broadcast contracts what the winners of other major leagues were receiving. But, with a premium placed by French clubs in particular when the Premier League came calling, they were spending far too heavily on players’ wages and agents fees. They still do – the highest wages across the board tend to be in England – but their financial might has become overpowering. Barcelona, Real, Bayern Munich are at the top of the Deloitte Football Money League but then come United, Liverpool, City with Chelsea and Tottenham also in the top 10 and Arsenal 11th. Forbes and other organisations rank the English clubs even higher. Widen the list and there are more English clubs.
Uefa’s annual benchmarking report, which examines the finances of leagues across Europe, has continued to show that the Premier League leads the way for generating revenue. So, money talks. It was always going to lead to an eventual shift. English clubs carry the strongest, deepest squads and have been better placed to cope with the pandemic-shortened fixture schedule.
More widely they finally got their acts together. They got their infrastructures right – with many adopting European-style approaches such as employing directors of football – they organised themselves better with more sophisticated recruitment departments which meant they did not overspend so badly, they invested in medical and sports science, they sorted out their academies and – crucially – they developed their styles of play, which was an inevitability once they attracted the best coaches and managers in the world. That has proved to be one of the biggest, final pieces in the jigsaw. If Pep Guardiola quit tomorrow he would be wanted by a host of big clubs. The same applies for Jurgen Klopp. Mauricio Pochettino was fired by Spurs and got the Paris Saint-Germain job; Thomas Tuchel leaves PSG and takes over at Chelsea. Carlo Ancelotti is at Everton; Jose Mourinho is sacked by Spurs and there is a huge stir in Italy now he is taking over at Roma.
These are some of the very biggest names in coaching and – with Guardiola in particular – raised the standard across the Premier League.
The best players are no longer gravitating to Spain – where money is tight – and while Italy is improving, the league has just been won by Inter Milan, who have four players sold to them by United because they were no longer wanted. There is fierce competition in England and that also drives the clubs on. Four different clubs have won the league in the past six seasons.
Money does not buy success, but it can help guarantee it when it is spent more wisely and that was always the fear from the European giants. Once the Premier League stopped throwing the cash around like drunken sailors in a hopeless effort to bring immediate success, then it would always threaten to be not just the richest but the most powerful league.
Coaches and players say they come to England because they like the competitiveness, they like the atmosphere in the stadiums and they even like the organisation of the Premier League which runs far more smoothly, even when it comes to fixture scheduling, than competitions such as La Liga.
But above all – as with most professions – they chase the money. And the biggest trophies usually follow.