Wednesday, April 11, 2007

England Rules the Waves Once More

Nearly fifteen years after the establishment of both the Premiership and the Champions League, it seems, at last, that England's top clubs have achieved the supremacy that their league's marketers have long claimed to be the case.

Until Liverpool reached the 2005 final of Europe's premier club tournament, Manchester United's success in 1999 stood alone as almost a curiosity, and as a damning indictment of English clubs' failure to translate swagger and hype into real continental eminence.

Now, with at least one English team almost certain to be in this season's Champions League finale, and the strong possibility of two Premiership clubs lining out in the Olympic Stadium in Athens on May 23rd, English football looks to be returning to pre-Heysel levels of European dominance.

Manchester United's approach to what was a classically tricky second leg dilemma involved a high-stake risk/reward calculation. The policy of blitzkrieg that overwhelmed Roma before the 20th minute had been reached was undoubtedly a case of United playing supremely to their greatest strengths; but had Roma not yielded so soon and United burned up the jet fuel of their initial sorties, and had one of those long shots from Totti, Mexes or De Rossi found the net rather than fizzing perilously past Edwin van der Saar's right-hand post, United would have had an infinitely more challenging evening on their hands.

As it was, Roma wilted almost immediately in the heat of the sheer collective will of the home side's performance. United stretched the Italians all over the field, running from wide and deep, finding oceans of space where normally an Italian side playing away in Europe will present only an unbreachable dam.

When Roma had the ball, the desire of the United players to rid them of it was almost frenzied. From the unvaunted likes of Darren Fletcher (whose energetic fetch-and-give display put one in mind of Owen Hargreaves, whom United are likely to go to great expense to recruit in the summer) and Alan Smith, to Rooney and Ronaldo themselves, there was a combination of almost manic enthusiasm and ruthless precision to their play that was as breathtaking as anything Old Trafford has seen at anytime in Alex Ferguson's reign.

To Valencia, and another English team irresistibly enforcing their game on cowed European opponents. Chelsea may only have sealed the tie in the 90th minute of normal time, but Michael Essien's winner only confirmed on the scoreboard a supremacy which few must ever have enjoyed at the Mestalla.

Where United had deployed in excelsis their optimum attributes of pace and movement, Chelsea too had their best assets on show: an overwhelming combination of power and strength, made flesh through superhuman fitness levels. The Ghanaian's winner encapsulated Chelsea's method: the shot simply tore past Canizares in the Valencia goal in a manner that would have made attempting to stop it seem like puny impertinence.

Between, roughly, the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the rise of the new German and American states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the world existed in what was referred to as a 'Pax Brittanica'. Britain's military, imperial and commercial strength dominated global affairs, British values and standards were promulgated and her pre-eminence was clear.

It seems, with the Premiership television revenues set to continue enriching England's football clubs as colonial profits once did Britain's imperial centre, that we may be embarking on a footballing 'Pax Anglica'.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Adam said...

Isn't it interesting to note that the three English clubs still in Champions League contention are the three clubs owned by (non-UK) billionaires?

Is that a damning criticism of the managerial abilities of the English or a major advertisement for the benefits of billionaire ownership?

12:19 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me the highlight of the night was Darren Fletcher with time virtually standing still, looking up with the ball, surveying the pitch and spraying a cross field ball with the outside of his right foot 40 yars to Heinze.

For a long while I have been of the (much derided) opinion that Darren Fletcher could be the heir apparent to Keane. This is not vindication but a small reminder to watch him more.

Season 04-05 he was united's best player for 4 months, got injured and United fell away.

he has a chronic lack of confidence and yes is a little awkward on the ball but when the blood is up and he is confident he is as talismanic as any united player.

3:54 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

As far as the billionaire ownership issue is concerned, certainly in Chelsea's case it applies. In United's case, the ownership has had little effect on the club's spending policy, and in Liverpool's, the change of ownership is too recent to have had an effect.

The cumulation of several years of financial strength in comparison with most European competitors and tactically aware management have turned the tide in England's favour. Premiership money attracts the best now, on the pitch and in the dug-out.

Am also an admirer of Fletcher's, or at least, have always thought him of greater value than the symbolic figure of United's regression that he was sometimes portrayed as. Have just watched first half of Bayern - AC and saw little that Hargreaves did that Fletcher did not do last night, indeed Fletcher contributes more offensively.

8:40 p.m.  

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