Talking Football: The Italian Job

Read via Burnley FC’s matchday programme

Since Chelsea won the Europa League in 2013, no English club has progressed beyond the quarter final stage of European competition.

And that failure to achieve is leaving the Premier League’s fourth place ticket to Champions League qualification under threat from Serie A, whose teams have prospered in both of Europe’s club competitions.

Success for England’s teams in Europe has proven increasingly elusive since the Blues’ triumph at the Amsterdam Arena, and that has been reflected in UEFA’s rankings.

After leading the field between 2008 and 2012, England have slipped behind Spain’s La Liga and are on course to be overtaken by the German Bundesliga by the end of this season.

Further strain on England’s waning reputation as a competitive force is being increasingly applied by Italy’s top flight, with Juventus’ run to the final of the Champions League last season – alongside the appearances of Napoli and Fiorentina in the Europa League semis – contributing to the 108 ranking points accumulated by the Azuri’s six representative clubs.

England’s seven sides accrued a combined total of 90.5 with an average of 12.93 per team – a long way off Italy’s 18.

And there were more worrying signs in the opening week of Champions League fixtures, with Arsenal and both Manchester sides comfortably beaten, suggesting that the trend could continue.

The Premier League’s claim to hosting the highest quality of football in the world is, then, contentious at best.

Richest, rather, the more evident superlative.

With a net spending this summer of £455 million, five times that of second placed La Liga in the European money table, the Premier League contingents should achieve consistently in both European competitions.

But why, then, do they falter year on year despite such a competitive budget?

Perhaps the Premier League has become a place of interest so heavily invested in with such a circus of sponsorship, media spinning, and mega-wages that the purpose of the league as a dwelling for the best football has been lost somewhat.

Maybe the top teams aren’t really that good at the game despite the vast sums of money they spend on players to play it.

The demands of £200,000 a week wages and transfer requests preceding refusals to play are seeing the English football go backwards at an alarming rate.

The Champions League should be the platform where these superstars really earn their money.

For City to lose at home to a Juventus side far weaker than last season and United to be beaten by the side from whom they acquired Memphis Depay, PSV’s top scorer last season with 28 goals, is a sign that the Premier League needs to refocus on its bread and butter, winning football matches.

Perhaps English sides should take note of the threat coming from the progression of Italian, German and French clubs rather than dwell in arrogance at their position in the Premier League table, which means very little when it comes to the real test in European competition.

The Premier League may be the most followed but it will be an embarrassment when those leagues with clubs quietly going about their business pinch that qualifying spot.

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