English Clubs In Europe

Sunday, 23 March 2003, 0:00
3 mins read

Home >Story Index> Why Are English Clubs Crap In Europe

Of course being in Swansea people got caught up in the excitement that John Toshack and his boys were bringing us but there was often more bad press about the game than good. However, there was one thing that the English clubs were good at – and that was European competition. For 6 years in the late 70s/early 80s, English Clubs ruled Europe’s premier club competition. Liverpool started the trend in 1977 and 1978, Nottingham Forest continued it in 1979 and 1980, Liverpool again in 1981 and finally Aston Villa in 1982. Liverpool again triumphed in 1984 before losing in the 1985 final – remembered mainly for the Heysel tragedy.
After the above mentioned Heysel tragedy, English clubs spent six years in European exile – courtesy of the age of the football hooligan that had really gripped our sport but in the 11 years back in Europe only Manchester United’s lucky (?) comeback against Bayern Munich has bucked the trend of English clubs promising much and failing to deliver.
Of course, there has been success elsewhere during that time – Manchester United and Arsenal have both lifted the now defunct Cup Winners Cup and Liverpool have a UEFA Cup to their name from 2001. But it is the Champions League that messrs Ferguson, Wenger et al crave but it seems to prove elusive to most.
Take this season’s competition – the four British representatives were Arsenal as League Champions, Liverpool as runners-up and Manchester United and Newcastle who both had to pre-qualify for the group stages. (On a side note here surely the name Champions League implies Champions but that’s another argument!)
Liverpool failed to make it past the allegedly easier group stage despite being seeded. They lost out to Basel (not Fawlty although Liverpool were at the time) who became the weakest team ever to reach the second group stage (so they kept telling us anyway)
Newcastle lost their opening three games in the group stage but came back to qualify whilst both Arsenal and Manchester United seemed to qualify with something to spare.
The second group stage saw Newcastle start just as badly but almost pull off a minor miracle in qualifying. Newcastle’s run reminds me somewhat of Leeds a couple of years back – expected to do very little but surprised many along the way. Indeed, had they won in the San Siro last week I think they would have qualified as Barcelona would have ensured that they got the necessary points seeing Newcastle in the quarter finals as making their job easier somewhere along the line. It was a brave and well applauded effort by Bobby Robson’s team and they will be back.
Manchester United qualified for the quarter-finals at a canter. Four games, four wins sealed their fate and they could afford the luxury of weakened/reserve teams for the next two games. Seven successive quarter-finals extends their competition record although for all that effort in the past six years – they have just the one final in 1999 to show for it.
But it is Arsenal that mystifies me. In England they are head and shoulders above the rest. Sure the Premiership race is close but seriously do you think Arsenal will blow it from their position? They have the knack that Man Utd had a few years ago of winning when being awful and you will never be far off the pace with that ability. But in Europe they look average at best. Is this because they simply get it wrong or the fact that opposition teams can just see an immediate gameplan that 19 Premiership teams cannot?
Sure there are teams in Europe that are better than the best England can offer but not that many – Manchester United’s record over seven seasons backs up a quarter final spot is achievable for anyone that can match them. Arsenal just seem to have that un-nerving ability and freeze when the crunch is there.
Of course they will be back and they will be stronger but they need to get this right. The Champions League becomes higher priority for managers year on year – ask the top managers if they would prefer the Premiership Crown or the Champions League in their trophy cabinets and most would say the latter (well those that would have the choice would!) but they cannot do it.
Onto the last sole remaining English Club – Man Utd. They will not win the Champions League this term. I believe they have looked better this time around and I think that they have learned some lessons in the last 6 years that Arsenal have still to learn. Man Utd seem to have a patience that is suited to this competition – something that is still under development at Hughbury. Real Madrid though are the masters and it will have to be another year at least before an English Club’s name is inscribed on Europe’s Premier Club Competition.

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