It is no longer just hype. The English Premier League is officially the best national club competition in the world. Though the EPL has for decades boasted higher appeal and further reach, La Liga always pointed to the dominance of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla in European completions as a pointer to it’s superior technical proficiency. They had a point, as Real and Barca have won six of the last 10 Champions League crowns, with Sevilla and Atleti gobbling up seven of the last ten Europa League crowns. This season Chelsea has eliminated three La Liga clubs – Sevilla, Atleti and Real – outscoring them 10-1 in six outings.
The Premier League model in which television revenue is better distributed throughout the division and down the English football chain is yielding dividends. In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid gobble up to 50 percent of all television money, to the detriment of other teams and therefore competition. This is why a team like West Ham United, who have never qualified for Europe can make an irresistable cash offer for a Sevilla player like Youssef El Nesyri despite the Spaniards boasting five European titles within the last ten years. Eleven out of the twenty richest clubs are indeed from the Premier League.
Further to that, the EPL is a tactical brewery that is home to six of the top ten football coaches in the world at the minute. Pep Guardiola has remained the benchmark of coaching by helping Manchester City play a brand of hybrid football previously unseen or unmatched over the long term. For all his trials and tribulations this season, Jurgen Klopp holds the patent for gengenpress football whereas Thomas Tuchel is taking tactical innovation and tinkering to a new level of effectiveness. All three are learning from the original coaching maestro, Marcelo Bielsa, triple European champion Carlo Ancelotti and the recently departed thrice continental emperor Jose Mourinho.
Barcelona are trapped in a five-year transition from Lionel Messi. The seven man spine that won so much with Barca – Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Pique, Dani Alves, Busquets and Jordi Alba is either gone or on the wrong side of thirty. Ronald Koeman is doing a better job than Zidane with youngsters but it could be years before the likes of Sergino Dest, Ilaix Moriba, Ronald Araujo, Pedri and Piqui operate at the level of their great predecessors. Both sides are meanwhile failing to come to terms with lack of matchday revenue and have accumulated massive debts.
The fact Real Madrid was the sole semifinalist is a far cry from the 2011-18 epoch in which La Liga’s top three almost always reached the last four. The record 13-time champions are clearly suffering from a post Cristiano Ronaldo hangover while the first manager to win three consecutive Big Ears Zinedine Zidane is trapped with an ageing side. Sergio Ramos (35), Luka Modric (36), Marcelo (32), Toni Kroos (31), Karim Benzema (34) and Nacho (31) are wily old war horses incapable of subduing the opposition at the highest level. Los Blancos President Florentino Perez would be better advised to rejuvenate his squad rather than push for the creation of a European Super League.
With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United bookmakers overwhelming favourites to lift the Europa League, and Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal in with a strong shout to reach the final, we are witnessing a throwback to the early part of this century when English clubs held sway in Europe. Managers of EPL’s Top Six are enjoying a field day in the transfer market because for the first time in years, neither the Santiago Bernabeu nor the Camp Nou is a favourite destination for emerging talent. Next month’s battle for the signature of Erling Braut Haaland will confirm that.