Arsenal, Chelsea and the Premier League's continuing European nightmare
The Premier League had another disappointing week in the Champions League with Arsenal and Chelsea losing, taking the English clubs tally to five defeats in eight games in the 2015/16 Champions League. This downfall doesn’t appear to be a gradual drop off either with Chelsea being the only club to reach the semi-finals of Europe’s elite club competition in the last four seasons.
Many observers say the Premier League is the best in the world, which is impossible to justify considering the poor performance in Europe over the last few seasons, but it is definitely the richest league so why are clubs no longer getting value for their money?
Over the last decade there has been a rule change in European competition where UEFA have gradually introduced a change where each club must have a minimum number of home grown players in their 25 man squads. This started at four in 2006/07, six in 2007/08 before reaching its current total of eight in the 2008/09 season. This increase means clubs will have to rely more on the influence of their association’s national team as the four Premier League clubs in the Champions League need to have a minimum of 32 English trained players over the four teams squads.
By being the richest league in the world, English clubs have been in a privileged position in the transfer market and hundreds of players have become millionaires in the Premier League era but now the league and to a lesser extent the national team have become victims of that commercial success. The money in the Premier League has forced owners/chairmen into a corner where they simply must maintain their Premier League status and we have reached a stage where these clubs are sacking managers when they hit a bad run of form as the prize of being one of the elite 20 clubs in the Premier League has become so valuable.
Naturally, this has a knock on effect and mangers become reluctant to give that promising talent in the youth team a game as by the time he has developed into a top class player the club are on their third new manager since he has been sacked. Instead they take the route of the more experienced foreigner and that promising youngster ends up down the divisions as he wasn’t playing regularly for those last, vital years in his development from boy to man.
The England national team has struggled in major competitions for the best part of two decades now with no semi-final appearances in any tournament since Euro 96. Many different people have come up with many different reasons and regardless of which theory you prescribe to it is clear that there is a development problem in bringing young players through and the poll of players that exists in other countries simply isn’t there in England.
Since Jose Mourinho’s Porto beat Monaco in the 2003/04 Champions League Final every single Champions League finalist has been from England, Spain, Italy or Germany. In that time Italy, Spain and Germany have all won a World Cup and Spain have won two European Championships beating Germany and Italy in the finals. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Spain, Germany and Italy are better at international football than England but up until the rules changed it wasn’t something that mattered to the Premier League clubs.
However, now that the Premier League clubs are forced to have eight players who were trained by English clubs in their squads a situation has developed where this small pool of talent has increased in value as not only do the clubs have to find eight English players but they also have to take them from clubs who don’t really need to sell them as the television money they get is more than enough to sustain them. In other countries clubs know that they have to develop and sell players to survive which helps the national team in the long run as clubs are forced to develop players rather than taking the easy route of buying in players from other places.
Another problem English clubs have is they face more competition than their rivals for key players. England have four representatives in the Champions League every season and each of these clubs consider the Champions League as an achievable target. To be in a competition you have to comply with the rules and English clubs have to find a way to fill the eight slots with English players from what is a limited pool and this leads to situations like Ross Turnbull, Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Fabian Delph, Calum Chambers, Rickie Lambert and Nick Powell being signed by elite clubs despite not being good enough.
The Premier League clubs rivals have a larger pool of talented players to choose from with Italy, Germany and Spain performing better in international football but they also have fewer clubs who can pay the money required to bring in established players. In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid are the big spenders, while Bayern Munich dominate the German transfer market, often plucking the best talents from their rivals and Juventus are the main spenders in Serie A. This means these clubs have no problem filling the eight home grown spots from player pools that are better than the players four English clubs are trying to fill their squads from.
In England there has always been a rivalry between the Football Association and the Premier League. The FA have perhaps saw the issue coming and have tried to restructure youth development but they can’t do it alone and there will still be a period in the majority of players development where they aren’t getting matches in their late teens and early twenties. Do the Premier League care about this? Probably not, is the honest answer. Financially, the league is setting records every season and the grounds are still full of supporters paying extortionate prices to see their teams. All 20 Premier League clubs are within the top 40 clubs in the world in terms of turnover and as these clubs are mostly being ran as businesses while the money keeps rolling in the big clubs will keep throwing it about in the hope of hitting that winning formula.
It’s difficult to see any way of solving these issues other than making sure the other 17 players in these 25 man squads are of the highest quality possible and in recent years England’s top clubs have been failing miserably in this area. While Real Madrid and Barcelona have signed Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez just after they had won the the Premier League Player of the Year awards, the English clubs have responded by signing Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro, Angel di Maria and Bastian Schweinsteiger. All of those players are good in their own respect but they were all surplus to requirements at their old clubs and if the English clubs want to get closer to the last three Champions League winners, they won’t get there by signing their reserves.
There are no signs that the financial juggernaut that is the Premier League is going to implode soon so it is unlikely that the top clubs will start bringing through young players and the issue of four clubs desperately trying to sign any young, talented English player will continue. The same problems will arise with players’ development which means the likely alternative is to continue the crazy spending on players and it doesn’t appear to be having the desired effect at present.
As things stand Premier League clubs are living hand to mouth with little regard for the future. As long as television companies continue throwing money at the league, they will be fine but the big danger could be if this poor run in Europe continues and the foreign television companies pull the plug on the stream of money that is flowing into the Premier League and without the money and the youth prospects long abandoned, things could get even worse for English clubs in Europe.
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