With Manchester United twelve points clear of their nearest rivals in February, this year’s Premier League title race is all but over. Bearing in mind United themselves have had their share of critics of late, what does this say about the condition of English football?
Chelsea may be the current champions of Europe but their elimination in this season’s league stage along with Manchester City’s woeful attempts to forge anything like a team out of a group of superstars has got everyone from punters to pundits asking if our top tier is indeed in decline and if so, who or what is to blame.
United are at present an unflattering 10-1 sixth favourites with bookmaker giants Paddy Power to win the Champions League, while the recently announced UEFA team of the year contained players from the Spanish, Italian, German and French leagues without finding room for a Premier league representative.
The answer is not rocket science; the Premier league is as good as it’s ever been, with excitement rather than technical skill always having been its chief proponent. No, look around and you will notice that if the English game set the precedent for foreign investment then everyone else is catching up fast, and that means the talent is being spread around.
Arsene Wenger, whose Arsenal side face Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich in their last sixteen clash agrees, but still maintains the pulling power of the Premier League will continue to attract the world’s best:
'Maybe we have less margin for error than we had before when it was just a question of when we would qualify. Now German football has come up, Spanish football is there every year and some French clubs have come back, like Paris Saint-Germain.
'I don’t believe we are getting worse. I’d still say England is the strongest league, because in England if they want a player they still get him. As long as that happens you will be the most powerful league in Europe. Are we the best in Europe? That’s another question.
'I would say that the best leagues in Europe are in Spain and England.'
There are of course sub plots and counter arguments that suggest that, among other things, while the higher level of foreign players have undoubtedly enhanced the standard of football in this country we have also seen an influx of distinctly average ones. This in turn stunts the development of home grown talent.
But accusations like this are nothing new and we need only look to our neighbours in Europe to see that we are not alone in embracing billionaire benefactors anymore. PSG, Shaktar Donetsk and others are breaking through thanks to huge investment. Is it therefore too much to hope that the old school of our game from coaching staff through to administration use their experience to convince our highly paid football artists that traditional values such as work ethic and good old fashioned team spirit really can take us that extra mile and elevate the Premier League back to the top.