With all its glitz and shimmering glamor, the Champions League is revered like no other club football competition. While the unique charm of the old European Cup might be missed in some quarters, the reincarnated competition has given the continental tournament a significance that simply cannot be matched.
The Champions League is a competition in which the best face the best. It is a battleground for Europe’s elite and in recent seasons it has been dominated by Spanish clubs. Real Madrid’s Milanese triumph over Atletico Madrid in May meant that the tournament has been won by a Liga team for each of the past three years, underlining the country’s undeniable status as the vanguard of the current footballing era.
In fact, Spain’s dominance of the European game goes deeper than just Champions League success. Sevilla have won the Europa League for the past three successive seasons, meaning all of the last six premier club trophies (nine if the European Super Cup is included) handed out by UEFA have been lifted by Spanish clubs. It has become a monopoly.
However, the country might finally have something of a challenge to their supremacy. There is a sense that the Premier League might have enjoyed a resurgence over the summer, with some of the game’s brightest and best coaches washing up on the shores of England’s top flight. Transfer records have also been broken as the country’s biggest clubs looked to underline they renewed ambition.
Not even Spain’s super-clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid, could compete with the money being splurged by the Premier League’s elite this summer. The latter baulked at the £89 million paid by Manchester United for Paul Pogba, meaning that for the first time in nearly 15 years the most expensive player in world football won’t belong to a Spanish club.
So will that manifest itself in a drastic improvement of English clubs’ fortunes in the Champions League? Premier League sides have grossly underachieved in recent seasons, with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid to a certain extent distancing themselves from the chasing pack at the top of the continental game.
Manchester City, in particular, surely boast the best chance of breaking up Spain’s European dominance, with Pep Guardiola now in charge of the Abu Dhabi-owned club. The Catalan has never before failed to reach the final four of the Champions League in any given season, whether at the helm of Barcelona or Bayern Munich, and now he is expected to deliver similar results at his new club.
Of course, it could take some time for Guardiola’s philosophy to take root at the Etihad Stadium, but City have the squad and strength in depth to make a real impression on the Champions League this season.
That might not be the case for both Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, though. The duo might have led the Premier League title race for much of last season, but they would appear to lack the quality to truly trouble the continent’s very best. Will the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid really shudder upon the thought of a trip to the King Power Stadium?
Nonetheless, the sense of a Premier League resurgence is strong. Arsenal too mustn’t be discounted from the discussion, as Arsene Wenger looks to deliver success in what could be his last season at the North London club. English football is on upward curve and that could carry many along with it.
Barcelona’s Champions League wins in 2009 and 2011 forced the rest of La Liga to pull up their socks, with Real Madrid striving to match their great rivals. That has resulted in Spain’s period of unchallenged dominance on the continent. The same may happen in the Premier League, and once again Guardiola could be the leader for all that follows.