In recent seasons, English teams have started to get a stronghold in the European competitions. Which could suggest that the Spanish dominance that has pertained in UCL and UEL is under threat, if not about to change. Only the second time ever, did an all English Champions League final take place in 2019, after 2008. Manchester United and Liverpool have been the two English sides to have paraded in the Spanish reign of European dominance since 2014 up until 2020; when Bayern Munich won their sixth European crown.
Since the Premier League’s inception back in ’92, the rate at which English teams have been reaching European finals has exploded, with the Premier League providing at least one finalist every year except 2010, from 2005-2012 in the UCL. With five of the current top six clubs appearing in at least one final, sorry Manchester City. It can be said that the Premier League and its competitiveness could be behind this, but there are more factors at play than just the competitiveness the league has provided.
It can be seen as a wave function, to quantify the number of genuine English contenders have been for the UCL crown, with very little at the start of the Premier League up and around until 2000, then hitting a boom phase in the 2000s, then going back down once again in the 2010s, and now currently on the rise at the start of 2020s.
The inflow of money, greater broadcasting money, TV rights, sponsorship deals, fair and equitable distribution among the teams, a better quality of transfers, the TV appeal, the list could just go on and on and on.
But the major reasons behind the Premier League and the change in its relationship with the UCL could be attributed, for the most part, to the rivalry between the clubs in the league. I’ll help you understand this with a flow of events.
Sir Alex Ferguson took charge of Manchester United in 1986 and is famous for his quote – “I’ll knock them off their f*****g perch,” when Liverpool were still the top dogs in the land, with the most number of top-flight titles and European crowns. He won his first trophy in 1990, which kick-started his reign and would go on to become one of the greatest managers ever, earning plaudits, silverware, medals, friends, and of course, enemies. He won all but two titles until the end of the century. It almost felt like there was no one who could compete with him to take away the crown and consistently threaten United at the top.
In came Arsene Wenger in 1996, who would go on to become the longest-serving manager in premier league history. He brought in new methods, techniques, and innovations to the English game which would revolutionise how every league club approached football on and off the pitch. He won the league in ’98, ’02, and his most memorable in ’04 – the invincibles. Wenger and Ferguson had developed a rivalry which almost seemed like a duopoly, where it was expected that one of those two are winning the league come next May.
But in silence, Chelsea were bought by a certain Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich in 2003. Little did the two teams know, that in just under three years, Chelsea would go on to win two titles, back to back in ’05 and ’06, a feat which even Arsenal couldn’t achieve, and still haven’t till this date. ‘The Special One’, Jose Mourinho orchestrated the title run, and also reached a UCL semi-final in his first season.
Around the same time when Chelsea hired Jose, a sleeping giant in Liverpool hired Rafa Benitez who became the first manager to lift the UCL since Sir Alex in 1999 in 2005 with that famous and memorable comeback in Istanbul. He would not just start the trend of English teams consistently being in the run-in for the UCL, but also reach another one in 2007.
In 2008, Manchester City were bought by UAE royalty, which only meant that they had received a bank account which is, in reality, an endless pit of money, which is true till this date as City continue to spend like there’s no tomorrow.
By 2012 and 2013, the current big six had finally taken shape, with the rest of the teams gunning to be the champions of the ‘best of the rest division’.
It’d be unfair to say that it was just the competitiveness that brought glory to the English teams, as the league has seen some of the biggest names since it came into existence. Some of those players have gone on to be the foundation of their sides UCL winning team.
Rio Ferdinand, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Virgil Van Dijk, Alisson, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Nemanja Vidic, Andrew Robertson, Petr Cech, Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole, Andrew Cole and so many more have been key to either helping their side reach the final or go one step further and actually winning it.
There have been many teams changing signings, as the effect of a single player can turn a struggling challenger into an out-and-out contender, as Liverpool signing Virgil van Dijk did for them, chasing his team to the final in 2018 but losing, unfortunately, and going on to rectify the mistake in 2019 by lifting their sixth trophy.
Cristiano Ronaldo had powered United to two consecutive UCL finals but had to endure mixed results as United won the first against their English rivals Chelsea, but lost the next one to an all-conquering Barcelona side under the tutelage of an era-defining, power shifting Pep Guardiola and someone by the name of Lionel Messi.
What now for the league
With the domestic fixtures the toughest they have ever been since ’92, with almost every club outside of the big six capable of both spectrums of extreme, by challenging the top six or getting dragged into a relegation battle across the season. The Premier League’s USP seems to have finally landed in the perfect spot they had once set for themselves.
Wolves are one of the best examples of what the league is like because of the quality of their squad and the manager getting to UEL quarter-finals in 19/20 after they were in the Championship two season ago.
Leicester City have been looking to find a way back into the dreamland of European football after they got a taste of it in 16/17, as they won the league in 15/16. They have been slowly building their squad since 2017/18 and Brendan Rodgers seems to be the final piece of the puzzle for them as they look to continuously maintain the quality of squad despite losing star players and continuing to challenge for the top six.
Leeds under Marcelo Bielsa look a team aiming to do a Wolves as they have European qualification in their sights. They’ve been raring to go at it, as the 16-year wait to be back in the Premier League has been a long one for them.
The top clubs will need to keep their foot on the gas, because one wrong gear and everything could come crashing down for them as the cutthroat nature of the league is finally on show with clubs like Everton, Leeds, Wolves looking to break into the top four, and other clubs not far away, such as Southampton, West Ham, Newcastle and even Aston Villa looking for inroads to the top half.