Rule Britannia

By , Posted on 18th December 2011 - Posted in: News

What are we to make of the recent failure of a clutch of English clubs to progress into the latter stages of the Champions League (Manchester United, Manchester City) and Europa Cup (Fulham, Tottenham and Birmingham City)?

The first thing to say of course is that both United and City remain in Europe, dropping down from the Champions League into the Europa Cup, but even so, with such lofty ambitions when the campaign began, their dual exit from club football’s most prestigious tournament can only be viewed as extremely disappointing. They now join Stoke City as England‘s flag bearers in the often (though unfairly) derided second tier competition and one senses a real danger that both Manchester clubs will also find themselves swiftly eliminated from this less arduous competition should self pity or inertia overwhelm their feted stars before the round of 32 kicks off. Their respective opponents, Ajax and Porto, will rightly offer no easy passage.

Chelsea and Arsenal will rumble on in the Champions League but face tough draws, and the recent bombast surrounding English clubs in Europe is, for the time being, notably absent.

And yet I feel it would be wrong to draw too many negative conclusions from this blip. Manchester City are on a steep learning curve and will surely only improve as money and resources continue to pour their way. United are in transition, and though they presently have issues in all areas of the field, one glance at Sir Alex Ferguson’s track record of being able to shape a new side from the pieces of an old one should earn him the trust that he’ll pull the same trick off again.

Tellingly, Spain’s La Liga, often cited as the Premier League’s thrusting, more exotic rival, also only boasts five teams through to the latter stages of both competitions, with the same split of two in the Champions League and three in the Europa Cup. There has been a general leveling off of standards across Europe, a fact that can only be good for the game and something which UEFA are trying to foster with their focus on curbing the financial excesses of the bigger clubs (something Man City will have to fall into line with sooner rather than later).

As Tottenham and Fulham have shown in recent seasons English football in Europe is not only about the ‘big four’. The Premier League does at least show evidence of more strength in depth than Spain’s La Liga and to that end we have much to look forward to. The clash between Stoke City and Valencia in the Europa Cup is perhaps the most fascinating fixture of the first of the knock out phase matches. Will Valencia have ever experienced anything to equip them for a night in the Brittania stadium? I can’t wait to find out.

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