There was a time when English clubs seemed to be the best in Europe. The major European competitions were consistently being won by the likes of Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Manchester United. It seemed that English clubs could do no wrong.
But the ban that followed the Heysel Stadium disaster saw a period of time when English teams weren’t facing major European rivals. There’s no doubt that, in footballing terms, this saw the top English clubs falling behind. For a number of years, it appeared as though the best club sides in Europe were to be found in Italy.
Even enthusiasts in this country couldn’t help but admire the cultured, multi-national teams that were representing AC Milan, for instance. Gradually, however, things started to swing back in favour of the English giants. Money poured into the Premier League and it wasn’t long before Manchester United and Liverpool were back ruling the European game.
With rich owners appearing at Chelsea and Manchester City, it seemed that English football was set to dominate once again, just as it had done twenty years ago. But things aren’t quite that simple. Over in Spain, a fantastic team has emerged in the city of Barcelona. Already having defeated Manchester United in two Champions League finals, the Barcelona team is being held up as an example of one of the great footballing sides of any generation.
Now, questions are suddenly being asked again. Can the best English teams recover and really compete? On the one hand, it can be argued that the finances available to the big Premier League sides should ensure that they can continue to be powerful. While this may be the case, there are certainly problems on the horizon.
The Premier League (established 20 years ago) has brought many financial benefits. It’s recognised throughout the world as a competition that offers an example of how sport and money can be combined. To a certain extent, the money has been shared between member clubs. The most successful clubs have received a larger share of the income, but it’s clear that things could have been very different.
To see how much different, we can simply look to Spain. In that country, the individual clubs have been able to negotiate their own television deals. This has created a real split, with the two biggest football clubs in Spain (Real Madrid and Barcelona) becoming even richer. They are now able to generate the sort of incomes that even threaten their rich English opponents.
Unless there’s a change in the way that the money is distributed in the Premier League, it seems that Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and the rest may have finally met their match. Should this concern domestic fans? Some won’t be too worried. There’s always a tendency to focus on rivalries that are a little closer to home.
However things turn out, it seems clear that the next decade will see some significant changes. The world will be watching.