Thursday, April 25, 2024

On English teams crapping out of Europe

A woeful Champions League season for English clubs ended last night as Man City were hammered 1-0 by a Messi inspired Barcelona. Only for Bob Dandruff in nets the score could have hit double figures, and hopefully that’s him using up all his saves in one night so they let in loads in the Premier League between now and May.

Bacary Sagna got a game for once and, much as I was hopeful he might stick around last summer, it appears like it was the right move for him and for us. But, the exits of City, Chelsea and ourselves, as well as Liverpool from the group stages, will probably have a knock-on effect on England’s UEFA coefficient.

Back in 2013 there was a fear that the Bundesliga would overtake the Premier League, but despite the success of Bayern that hasn’t happened yet. The latest standings are here with Spain first with a coefficient of 94.713, then England on 80.105, Germany on 77.986, and Italy far behind on 66.010.

It means that there’s no danger of losing a Champions League place as the top three countries in the rankings are given four places in the tournament for the season after next. Even with Juventus still in the tournament there’s no way Italy can make up the ground, so the top four remains the sacred ground it has been for so long.

But surely the failure of all the English clubs raises some questions about their ability to compete properly in the Champions League. On the one hand you might argue that all three were victim of circumstance in their round of 16 games. Arsenal had a dreadful night at home to Monaco and paid the price; Chelsea were denied an obvious penalty on the night they went out against PSG; while Man City had the misfortune to face a revitalised Barcelona side yet again.

On the other, however, Arsenal could be accused of first-leg complacency and stupidity; Chelsea played against 10 men for most of the second leg and still managed to make a hilarious bollix of it; while City have spent a hundred and elventy-trillion pounds in the last few years and not improved in the slightest when it comes to European competition.

In the wake of their exit last night there were calls for changes to be made to the game in England to allow our top clubs to have a greater chance against the continental big-boys. Ideas mooted included scaling back the Christmas schedule; some kind of winter break to rest weary legs; no replays in the FA Cup after a certain round; single-game semi-finals of the Capital One Cup – all of which make sense to some degree.

Certainly the Christmas period is something that should be considered. You could keep the tradition of festive football but play one game less, perhaps. And a winter break makes all kind of sense, but maybe there could be one less Interlull too in the opening weeks of the season. As for no replays in the FA Cup, that might, from time to time, benefit a top four club but would, more often, punish smaller clubs for whom replays are often lucrative and helpful to their continued existence.

The Capital One Cup idea is a good one really, two legged semi-finals in the Champions League are reflective of the tournament’s quality, but this is the league cup. I don’t think anyone would object to any changes made to the Littlewoods Milk Carling Rumbelows Capital One Cup, especially at the late stages when it affects a limited amount of teams.

However, isn’t there something a little presumptuous, or dismissive of the rest of the clubs, if changes are being made to help the elite few? Why should the rest of them agree to anything if the main driver for this is to make it slightly easier for the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City etc?

Isn’t it down the clubs themselves to make themselves more competitive? It’s not as if English football clubs are short of money. The new TV deal announced a couple of months back means the already massive revenues they receive are going to increase once more. We’re living in an era of record high ticket prices backed up by record high sponsorship deals, shirt deals that bring in the price of a world class player every season, massive amounts of prize money and TV money from being in the Champions League, and countless other smaller sponsors and revenue streams which all add up to record income levels.

So, if a club fails to achieve what it should in Europe, or domestically for that matter, it’s incumbent on them to use those resources – and for some the ones bestowed on them by their billionaire owners – in a way that will make them better. Are we supposed to feel like they’re being hard done by because they have to play a few games extra over the winter than their European counterparts?

They have the money at hand, and all the drawing power in the world, to ensure that their squads are able to cope with the schedules that they know they’re going to face. And this is the key: every manager knows what the season is going to be like. They know it starts in August (often after international tournaments), they know it gets hectic at Christmas, they know if they progress in Europe it gets difficult, especially if you’re still in the FA Cup and, hopefully, challenging for the title, so it’s their job to build squads that can cope.

The reality for all the Premier League clubs this season is that they have failed in that regard, that’s the simple fact. So skewing the game for their benefit when the failures are individual seems the wrong thing to do. Let them learn from their mistakes and if they don’t, it’s an issue for each club to deal with, not English football as a whole.

Meanwhile, news of a further match in the summer schedule can be found here, Tim Stillman’s column will be up this afternoon, and I’m back tomorrow with an Arsecast. Until then.

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