For years, the Premier League dined at the top table of European football – England had a representative in five consecutive Champions League finals between 2005 and 2009. The 2008 all-English final in Moscow proved to be the pinnacle of that golden era, but it didn’t stop there. In 2011 Man United made a third final in four years – while 2012 saw Chelsea get their hands of club football’s most coveted trophy for the first time.
Since then, even more money has flooded into our game and the riches on offer for the Premier League’s elite have drastically increased. Premier League clubs split a TV revenue pot of £2.4bn last season – with top earners Man United pocketing a mere £150m. The fortunes on offer in England have enticed some of the finest players across Europe to move to our shores. Nonetheless, English teams have performed woefully in Europe’s main tournament in recent times.
There were rumours in 2015 that the Premier League’s fourth Champions League spot may be awarded to Italy following a collective run of poor outings by our top teams. The 2014-15 season saw no English team progress beyond the round of 16. Man City did make a semi-final appearance in 2016 but tamely limped out, succumbing to Real Madrid. In 2016-17, only Leicester showed any resilience by making it to the quarter finals. These were bleak times for English clubs competing in Europe. Meanwhile, Spanish football enjoyed unprecedented dominance in the tournament – Barcelona (1) and Real Madrid (4) have emerged victorious in every season since 2013-14, in which time Atletico Madrid have also reached two finals.
However, last season provided much optimism of an English revival as Manchester City cruised into the last eight before falling to Liverpool. For Tottenham, victory over Real Madrid and Dortmund in the group, followed by a solid draw away in Turin versus Juventus, highlighted how close they are to becoming a force to be reckoned with. Chelsea started the campaign brightly with back-to-back wins, inflicting Atletico’s first defeat in their new stadium. And Liverpool may well have ended the season with a sixth European cup were if not for a few calamitous goalkeeping errors in the final. The Premier League created history, as England became the first country to have five representatives in the knockout phase of the Champions League, while it was the first time since 2007 that four English teams topped their respective groups.
This season English teams have continued to provide further signs for hope and optimism. Liverpool dispatched a star-studded PSG side on match-day one, while City have taken their imperious league form into Europe with a solid win away at Hoffenheim followed by comprehensive spankings of Shakhtar Donetsk home and away. Man United picked up a valuable three points away in Turin against the mighty Juventus. Despite Spurs struggling early on, they overcame PSV and Inter Milan and picked up a point at the Nou Camp against Barcelona to ensure a miraculous qualification to the knockout phase, meaning all four of our teams progressed to the next round.
It is too early to make any hasty statements and would be unwise to speak of a complete resurgence of English teams in European football. Things have not turned full-circle just yet, but the future looks promising. Football is cyclical in that sense, and it may well be the turn of English teams to conquer Europe once again. Another good season on the continent could end the debate as to whether the rigorous demands of Premier League football hinder our teams European endeavours. The English renaissance could be well under way.