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Want to win the Champions League? Spend, spend, spend

ESPN staff
March 16, 2015
A Luis Suarez double left Manchester City down and very nearly out of the Champions League last month © Getty Images

Unless Manchester City can do to Barcelona what they couldn't do to Burnley, or Arsenal can do what no side has done before in the competition, England will have no representative in the last eight of this year's Champions League.

In 2006-2007, England had three of the eight quarter-finalists. In 2007-2008, we had four, including both finalists (Manchester United and Chelsea). And four the next season as well, including finalists Manchester United. Between 2007 and 2009, 11 of 24 quarter-finalists were English.

Since that short golden era, English clubs have fallen behind. The next five seasons produced just eight quarter-finalists, with only one in 2012 and none in 2013 (albeit that Chelsea did win in 2012). Unless Manchester City can go to the Nou Camp and undo the damage from the 2-1 defeat at the Etihad, and Arsenal can overturn a 3-1 deficit in a Monaco stadium where three out of three group-stage opponents failed even to score, 2015 will see zero English interest in the last eight.

Olivier Giroud endured a torrid time for Arsenal against Monaco © Getty Images

The Europa League has also seen Liverpool, Spurs and Hull ejected. Everton stand alone.

Jamie Carragher says England "are miles away as a country" and that "we are being kidded".

But do the usual explanations for English football problems - lack of technical ability, lack of native talent, tactical naivety - really apply here? You cannot say that Manchester City or Chelsea are exactly over-reliant on English players. And the biggest-name coaches in England have records and experiences that match anyone on the continent.

Two factors probably do mitigate against English success - the lack of a winter break and an additional domestic cup - but the overall conclusion has to be that England have fallen short of the very best. Manchester City have never looked comfortable against the traditional big boys, while Arsenal have had some rough luck in the draws. Gooners must be particularly sick about their performance against Monaco, whom they will have fancied after a run of demanding last-16 ties against Barcelona, Milan and Bayern Munich (twice).

Those three superclubs have the advantage of playing their domestic football in a zone of comfort. The Spanish big two and Bayern are so far ahead of their domestic rivals in terms of talent and resources that they can approach European challenges fresh. The Premier League is less a respecter of reputations on the pitch, and the gulf in wealth - while obviously still large - is less yawning. All 20 of the Premier League's teams are in Deloitte's top 40 globally.

We may have had a lean period for the Premier League in Europe, but that this is about to change

We may have had a lean period for the Premier League in Europe, but the indications are that this is about to change. The enormous TV deal that was signed this season for the 2016-2019 Premier League rights represented a 70% increase and will ensure that teams who can stay in the top flight are going to get even more money.

Traditionally, when there has been more money sloshing around, players and their agents have selflessly stood up for the good of the game and acted as a check and balance, by demanding more of the money for themselves. But no other league in Europe is making the same sort of TV money that England is, so clubs from other European nations won't be able to compete on wages, meaning that players will have to just muddle through on the 100,000 grand a week they're getting from the big clubs here. Of course, Bayern Munich and Barcelona are still going to pay for the absolute cream of the crop, but your starting XI Premier League player at say, Liverpool, is probably going to find that the Reds have ever deeper pockets than, say, Valencia. Also, the pound is performing well against the Euro - good news for holidaymakers, good news for buying footballers.

Things may be a bit disappointing on the pitch right now, but football's battles are fought not just on the pitch, but in the banks and boardrooms. England's claim to have The Greatest League In The World might be bogus, but the richest league in the world is getting richer at a faster rate than its rivals and, sooner or later, money will talk in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Just not this year, by the looks of it.

It seems a long time ago that Manchester United were celebrating victory over Chelsea in the 2008 final © Getty Images
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