Football: English Are Coming! CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW: NOON TODAY, NYON NEW ERA OF GLORY LOOMS FOR OUR CLUBS IN EUROPE

The Mirror (London, England), March 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

Football: English Are Coming! CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW: NOON TODAY, NYON NEW ERA OF GLORY LOOMS FOR OUR CLUBS IN EUROPE


Byline: Martin Lipton CHIEF FOOTBALL WRITER

THE ENGLISH are not just coming to take over, they are already here - and here to stay whether Europe likes it or not.

For all the smiles from UEFA chiefs in Nyon today at the draw for the latter stages of the Champions League, the unprecedented presence of all four English sides who entered the competition shows how the balance of power has shifted.

It is not fluke, as last year's trio of semi-finalists showed, even if AC Milan ended up outlasting them all.

And the man whose overshadowed and forgotten penalty ended the first era of English glory amid the horrors of Heysel 23 years ago, hinted at the disquiet that the game is embarking on a new period of sustained domination.

Michel Platini has to choose his words carefully as president of UEFA but the former Juventus midfielder fears the sheer financial advantage the world's wealthiest league enjoys - and its open-door transfer rules - must have an impact.

"The Premier League is the most exciting and attractive league in Europe, yes, and that is being reflected in the Champions League, too," Platini conceded. "I understand why the clubs do what they do and obviously they are successful and will continue to be.

"I want to protect the philosophy of the game. I like Arsene Wenger and I like Sir Alex Ferguson. They're only doing what's best for their clubs.

"I like their players too, because they're great sides. I like your football, I like the games, I like the fans and the passion. That is what is giving you success, which will continue.

"But it's not my philosophy and my job is to do what's best for Europe. I need to protect the game."

Not that it needs protection as far as English football is concerned. After the years of famine sparked by the events of 1985, only interrupted by Manchester United's remarkable comeback in Barcelona in 1999, we are now into feast again.

Three successive finalists may have brought only one triumph - Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005. But the pattern has been set. No question now, surely, over which is Europe's dominant league. Just one Spanish club and one from Italy, where the Milan giants were slain so comprehensively by Arsenal and Liverpool.

Of Europe's "super clubs" only Barcelona are there to take on the Premier League quartet, with the possibility of all-English semifinals still there, at least until this lunchtime's draw.

That is the unanswerable proof of the strength of England's "big four" and while it may have become something of a cartel at home, United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea go into Europe every season as the teams the rest want to avoid.

While the financial muscle of the Premier League has been a huge factor, so is the nature of the competition the big four face week in, week-out. Gunners chief Wenger believes this is only the beginning and we will see the same time and time again over the next few years.

He said: "I'm convinced there is an era of Champions League dominance starting now.

"You have to realise the fact that the Premier League is so hard. It's down to the quality of the players, the quality of the league and the top commitment of the league.

"Many good players come to play in England but the pace of the game has stayed the same as always. The physical demands are very hard and that's why we will find another English club in the final this year.

"Fifteen years ago France was dominant a little, Italy was super-dominant, then France, then Spain, now England. …

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