Jan Molby

No danger of terminal decline for English game

Jan Molby

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English clubs' failure in the Champions League this season is a disappointment, but it certainly does not indicate the Premier League's terminal decline.

Arsene Wenger described the lack of teams in the quarter-finals as, "A massive wake up call for us," but in truth it is just the new reality of European football.

I don't think it's a case of English teams getting worse as much as others improving.

We were the first to get the big injections of cash - from TV in the 90s, then topped up by rich foreign owners at clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City last decade.

But the rest of Europe has caught up. The Bundesliga is in robust health, while major investment at clubs like PSG, Malaga and Shakhtar Donetsk mean new threats are emerging all over the continent.

Throw in the traditional powers like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, and it's no wonder English teams are finding life harder.

But let's not overestimate the extent of their problems. Everyone is raving about the Bundesliga, but they haven't had a Champions League winner since 2001.

The margins in the Champions League are paper-thin - one goal or one questionable decision can make all the difference. So just a small shift in the balance of power can have a huge effect.

Manchester United were unlucky against Real Madrid, while both Manchester City and Chelsea were drawn in tough groups. That's not to say they should have expected to go out - but if the draw is slightly kinder next year we should see Premier League clubs competing at the sharp end again.

It's not a doomsday scenario - clubs just need to adjust to the new landscape and tailor their expectations accordingly.

If some good is to come out of this year's failure, it might be in applying more pressure on the Premier League to help out clubs competing in Europe.

Arsenal played their first leg on three days' rest and lost 2-0 at home - Bayern had an extra day as their league game was moved to Friday night.

As they are out of the FA Cup, Arsenal had 10 days to prepare for the return leg and nearly pulled off an amazing comeback.

Having extra time to rest and recuperate can make a big difference, and it's about time the Premier League looked beyond its own narrow interests and helped its teams compete on all fronts.

Winter breaks are another old chestnut, but there's no doubt that they help keep players fresh throughout the season.

The public doesn't have much sympathy with footballers who get paid millions to run around kicking a ball.

But the grind of playing twice a week for nine or 10 months does wear you down, and that's when injuries happen.

The rate of injuries in the Premier League during the spring months is far higher than in countries that have winter breaks.

It just seems to me counter-productive that a league would risk the playing prospects of its main assets for the sake of short-term gain.

Looking ahead to the Champions League draw, I just have a funny feeling that Real Madrid are the team to beat.

They got a bit lucky against United, but Mourinho just has that aura about him where things like that don't surprise you.

Barcelona were awesome against Milan, but I'm not sure they are over their problems - someone will exploit their defensive frailties better than Milan.

And Bayern - I would certainly have had them among the favourites before last night, but after that flat, lifeless display I'm just not sure any more. Their fans will be praying it was just a one-off.

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