Lost glory: After a failed European conquest, can EPL resurrect?

  • Prerna Madan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 06, 2015 12:01 IST

As the Uefa Champions League draws to a befitting finale between Barcelona and Juventus on June 6, let's take a look at English Premier Leaue - which performed the worst in Europe's most prestigious football competition.

In April this year, former Manchester United and Everton manager David Moyes, who is currently managing Spanish football club Real Sociedad, slammed the English Premier League (EPL) for its lack of quality and poor performances. "This year, it is probably the poorest Premier League I've seen in a long time," the Daily Mail reported him as saying.

Many would perceive this comment as a bitter memory for Moyes who was sacked after just 10 months in charge of United after he took up the unenviable task of replacing legendary manager Alex Ferguson.

But, could this comment have some truth in it, indicating an emerging problem which might manifest itself deeply in the longer run?

Evidently, there is a certain amount of credibility in this statement.

None of the English clubs made it to the quarterfinals after reaching the last 16 stage of the Uefa Champions League. More so, Chelsea was defeated by Paris Saint Germain (PSG), Arsenal by Monaco and Manchester City by Barcelona.

Among these, City's fixture against Barcelona was the only one that was supposed to be a Herculean task; the other two should have been tricky but obvious victories for clubs belonging to one of the most competitive and the richest league in the world.

To add insult to injury, City was completely out-played by one player - Lionel Messi. Perhaps, he alone, would have been enough. Reports stated Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini summed up the match simply as the "genius of Lionel Messi".

Even Arsenal and Chelsea were stunned by their less-fancied opponents. This brings up another question - is the Premier League devoid of its spark of brilliance?

These disappointing set of results - along with the fact that a big club like United did not even qualify for the 2014-15 edition of the Champions League - are enough to raise serious questions about the future of the Premier League and whether its quality of play is declining.

The statistics, too, point towards this unfortunate trend.

It all began in the 2011-12 season, when only one English club qualified for the quarterfinals. That year though, Chelsea went on to lift their first Champions League trophy, even if it included a little bit of luck and a lot of mistakes by their opponents Bayern Munich.

2012 marks the year when the number of English teams started decreasing substantially in the final-eight of the coveted league. It became worse in 2013 and 2015, with no EPL teams at all and a mere 2 in 2014.

There could be various plausible reasons for these disappointing numbers.

Critics believe that the EPL is gradually following the same roadmap as the English national football team. Despite boasting of a star-studded team with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Daniel Sturridge, Joe Hart, etc., they fail to perform internationally.

Another commonly cited reason is EPL's overwhelming focus on pace and physicality, instead of Spanish efficiency in technique, passing and overall quality. This could be why the English league has some of the most entertaining and unpredictable matches as opposed to a relatively quieter La Liga.

However, one can also point out that EPL is not completely dominated by the ‘big clubs’. For instance, teams like United, Chelsea, City and Arsenal have lost games to Swansea City, Newcastle United, Burnley and even Leicester City.

It is of no surprise then, that teams vying for the third and fourth spots were Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Southampton. With every match, there was a chance that the tables might turn, almost literally!

Now looking over to their Spanish counterparts, one can easily discern the clear dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid, which ended the season with 94 and 92 points, respectively.

The entire competition came down to the two teams, with the exception of Atletico Madrid performing exceedingly well to win the league in the 2013-14 season.

The same is mirrored by Bundesliga and Serie A, with Bayern Munich and Juventus topping their leagues by huge margins.

This could mean two things - first, that the Premier league offers a more unpredictable environment, wherein there is no single invincible force; second, the quality of play on show by the top clubs has diminished, making it possible for other teams to defeat them and attain a higher rank.

The answer is inevitably debatable and might just be unfathomable.

Former England and Manchester United player Gary Neville - a popular pundit now - in an article for The Telegraph, believes that this is a dangerous pattern. English clubs are shying away from their inability to compete with Spanish giants by deluding themselves.

The reiteration that English football is nerve-wracking and runs on brute force, an element lacking in other competitions, is only an excuse to stray away from the issue.

He says that while this might even be true, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have the technique to play good football.

Another let down is the lack of attention on defence. EPL can no longer brag about centre-back partnerships similar to United’s Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, formed during Ferguson's successful European conquest in 2008.

While there could be innumerable rationales to justify this fall, the question remains: can English clubs rise up from the ashes in due time?

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