La Liga vs. Premiership: Battle for pride
The English empire is crumbling. Or is it?
For the first time since 2003, there are no English teams in the semifinals of the Champions League. Seven long years later, the Premiership is conspicuous by its absence in the final four of the continent's biggest competition. And some people are getting very excited indeed - both in England and abroad. Particularly here in Spain.
For some it's a time for wild partying; for others, it's time to reach for the razor blades and hack away at their wrists. For both sides of the divide it seems it is the end of an era.
Spain celebrates England's "demise"
"Yes, they're the richest, but everyone else has caught onto their tricks now," wrote the Spanish newspaper AS, "they know how to play with the same intensity and can be just as physical if needs be."
Others were pointing to an even more malicious malaise in the English game. Manchester United lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid, Liverpool sold Xabi Alonso, Chelsea barely bought anyone in years, and Arsenal were not exactly big spenders.
The common denominator was money: sunk by American owners, both Liverpool and United are in financial crisis. All over England the cash was drying up. Bit by bit the wheels seem to be coming off.
In Spain - the country that began the season announcing an assault on "the English throne" in Europe - they were especially pleased. UEFA's coefficient had Spain second only to England. This was a good sign. Proof that the days of Premier League dominance were over. Proof that La Liga was just as strong.
But, quite apart from the futility of the often tedious obsession with proving that one league is better than another which appears to be everywhere right now - Leo Messi's no good because he hasn't done it against an English club, as if that's the only measure and in any case he has; English football is all physicality and no finesse, underpinned only by money - is it?
Are the glory days of the Premier League really over? And can that really be shown by this year's European competition? Can a knock out competition ever prove anything? Aren't the margins too fine to be any use as definitive proof? Especially after just one year? Is a solitary season really a trend?
After all, the Spanish only have one team in the semifinal, the quite brilliant Barcelona. Barcelona is only one team, not an entire league. Spain's other big side, Real Madrid, the team that have broken their record for points this season as they bulldoze their way through opponents, were eliminated at the first knock-out stage. For the sixth successive season.
Sevilla went out at the same stage and Atletico did not even get out of the group.
And what is there beyond them? According to Arsene Wenger, nothing.
"Spain has two good teams, I confess that," he said today. "The No. 3 [Valencia] is 24 points behind. This weekend the players [planned to] go on strike because they are not paid. It is a league that is in complete disarray. If you are really competitive, you stay in England."
Pride? Perhaps. Short-sighted? Maybe. But Wenger certainly has a point.
English soccer has problems
English clubs, English football, may be heading for a fall, but is this really the best measure? English football clearly has problems - big, big problems - but couldn't early exits in the Champions League be explained more simply? Shouldn't they? This year at least.
Liverpool were a shambles, sure. But they're a shambles domestically, too. Arsenal got Barcelona, the best side in the continent. Chelsea were knocked out by the tightest of margins, having been denied what looked like a clear penalty in Milan. And United blew it on away goals after having a man sent off and Wayne Rooney injured.
Meanwhile, they do have two sides in the semifinal of the Europa League, Liverpool and Fulham. Yes, Fulham.
Spain have just the one: Atletico Madrid. And it's hard to believe that they have got there. Not including the Champions League qualifiers in August, Atletico have twelve European games. Guess how many they have won.
Go on, guess.
In fact, since the turn of the year, Spanish clubs have won just four out of 24 European games. That's 17 per cent. German clubs have won 38 per cent. English clubs 54 per cent.
Lies, damned lies and statistics and all that. Sure, it doesn't prove anything. Except that maybe, just maybe, we can't prove anything.
Not yet, anyway.
About the Author
Sid Lowe lives in Madrid and writes a weekly column for guardian.co.uk. He also writes regularly for the Guardian, World Soccer, FourFourTwo, and the Telegraph. He works as a commentator and panellist for Spanish, Asian and U.S. television, and has acted as translator for David Beckham, Michael Owen, and Thomas Gravesen.