English clubs in the Champions League - blip or bust?

By Sam Sheringham & Simon AustinBBC Sport
Graphic Montage of Champions League Quarter Finalists over last 18 years

(Click on the video above to see the shifts in power in the Champions League over the last 18 years. The dots represent the number of quarter-finalists by country, while each season's winner is shown in yellow).

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger described it as a "massive wake-up call", Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm said it was a "big surprise", while Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho gave a characteristic shrug of his shoulders and declared "this is football".

One way or another, the absence of English clubs from the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 1996 has not gone unnoticed.

Having provided eight representatives in the last eight finals, including three winners, and gobbled up more quarter-final places (33) than any other country over the last 17 years, Premier League clubs will be conspicuous by their absence when the eight remaining contenders settle down at Europe's top table this week.

In their place will be big-spending upstarts Paris St-Germain and Galatasaray, a resurgent Juventus, three Spanish sides - Barcelona, Real Madrid and Malaga - and two from Germany - Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

It seems a sorry state of affairs for a league often described as the best in the world and one that raises a wider question: is the failure of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea to advance beyond the round of 16 indicative of a long-term decline or is it simply - as Mourinho implies - a blip?

In pure performance terms, the evidence of a slump is hard to ignore. Having provided three of the four Champions League semi-finalists in every season between 2006-07 and 2008-09, no more than one English club has reached the last four in the four subsequent years.

This season, Premier League teams had a lower win percentage (39%) than in any year since 1995-96, with champions Manchester City failing to win any of their six group games.

Between them, the four clubs conceded 1.46 goals per game, the highest number since 1994-95 and evidence perhaps of the often-cited falling standards of defending in the Premier League.

Wenger described the performance as "a massive disappointment for English football" before concluding that "the rest of European football has caught us up".

Although the statistics clearly point to a downward spiral in England's fortunes, historic precedent suggests their time in the doldrums may be short-lived.

When La Liga experienced a parallel drop in 2004-05, with no Spanish side reaching the last eight, Barcelona bounced back by winning the competition the following season. The same happened to Italy in 2009-10 when Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan swept to the title one year after the quarters had been bereft of Serie A clubs.

Gavin Hamilton, editor of World Soccer magazine,external-link believes Premier League clubs are merely in transition after an era of dominance.

"The English clubs had the great run for a variety of reasons," Hamilton told BBC Sport.

"Money was obviously a big factor. Roman Abramovich was spending big at Chelsea, and got an outstanding manager in Jose Mourinho.

"Barcelona were in transition and Lionel Messi wasn't the force he is now. Real Madrid were in decline, having unravelled after the successful Galactico period.

"But I don't think the English are in decline now. They have been signing younger players, who are probably not at their peak yet, as they try to reduce their budgets ahead of financial fair play."

Hamilton says next season's introduction of financial fair play (FFP) - a system designed to ensure clubs do not spend beyond their means - is influencing the transfer policies of clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea.

After winning the Champions League in May, Chelsea invested in five players under the age of 24 with very little experience of European football. Manchester City, meanwhile, have a net spend this season of only £15.5m, compared with one of at least £57m in their six previous campaigns.

Contrast that with the approach of quarter-finalists Paris St-Germain and, to a lesser extent Galatasaray, who have reaped instant rewards from spending on proven Champions League performers.

The French side have added Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Brazilian midfielder Thiago Motta and former England captain David Beckham to their ranks, while the Turkish outfit signed former winners Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba in January.

The Dutch playmaker and the Ivory Coast striker, whose wage demands deterred other potential suitors, were influential in the thrilling 3-2 victory over Schalke in Germany that saw Galatasaray through to the last eight.

"PSG's spending has been off the scale, spending £150m in the last 18 months," adds Hamilton. "Galatasaray have also spent quite a bit of money and have focused on very experienced, older players, who have been able to deliver in the Champions League."

Another reason to believe English clubs will soon bounce back to prominence in European football is the huge cash injection provided by the Premier League's £3bn television dealexternal-link with BSkyB and BT, an increase of £1.25bn on the current package.

From next season, English clubs will find their spending power dramatically increased, even allowing for the constraints of FFP.

"We've not had a great season but I expect that to reverse and come back," Dan Jones, lead partner of the sports business group at Deloitte,external-link told BBC Sport.

"The Premier League has always been a long, long way ahead in terms of TV money and this accentuates that.

"The German and Italian leagues have pretty impressive deals as well but I'm sure they will have been collectively surprised and disappointed when the Premier League delivered the deal it did."

Jones forecasts the new TV package could increase English football's representation in Deloitte's annual list of the 20 richest European clubs from seven to 10 by 2015.

He expects the impact of this change to be felt most strongly in the Europa League, a competition which has not been won by an English club since Liverpool captured the Uefa Cup in 2001.

"In the Champions League, even our biggest clubs are up against teams with every bit as much financial power as they have but in the Europa League Premier League clubs typically have significantly greater financial resources than their opponents," he said.

"Our clubs should be very, very competitive going forward."


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