“I think it is a pretty fair indication of the current strength of the Premier League to see three English sides in the semi-finals of the Champions League this year.
But make no mistake, it has no bearing whatsoever on the state of the English game.
Sure, the Premier League can probably now be classed as the ‘best’ league in Europe, but the only reason why the Premier League is so well represented in the final four is because of the money floating round the game over here.
With such ridiculous wages on offer, of course the Premier League is able to attract the world’s best players, which it has successfully done now for a number of years.
It is the influx of high class foreign players, and unfortunately not English players themselves, which has made the Premier League so strong.
Before everyone gets carried away with the success of the English league, a clear distinction must be made between that and English football.
It’s great at the moment to be able to brag about having the best league, but the ramifications for the long term future of English football are huge. It’s the same old story – very few young English players get a chance to shine in the top flight when high quality foreign players are on offer and that has a detrimental impact on the national side.
Clearly, I’d much rather see a strong England team than have a strong league which sends three teams into the Champions League semi-finals.
The way it has panned out this season means at least one ‘English’ side will reach the final and if Manchester United can beat Barcelona, it will be an ‘all-English’ final in Moscow.
I’m not too keen on that idea. For me, the European Cup is all about playing teams from the continent and not from your own league. That’s why I can’t wait for United’s game with Barcelona, while Liverpool‘s clash with Arsenal has done nothing to get me excited.
United looked good against Roma in the quarters and the result was never really in any doubt. Alex Ferguson’s team selections reflected that and it was the replacements who shone, in particular Owen Hargreaves and Ji-Sung Park.
It still escapes me why Hargreaves has not played a more regular role since his arrival at Old Trafford – he has impressed me ever since I first saw him playing for Bayern Munich, against United.
There have been stories about his persistent tardiness and, if true, I can well believe Ferguson being rankled at that. The boss is not only a stickler for time-keeping but also for respect – and turning up late shows a lack of it. Football moves with the times, but a manager demanding respect is one thing that will never change.
It was a shame to see Arsenal get eliminated from the competition – I would much rather have seen them reach the semis than either Chelsea or Liverpool – but as I said the other week, this season has come a little too early for Arsene Wenger’s side.
As it is, I don’t think the Cheslea-Liverpool game will not hold too many surprises. We already know that it will be a cagey affair because both sides know each other so well and because there is an intense rivalry, bordering on hatred, between the two clubs.
Should United win through to meet one of the pair in Moscow, the final is sure to be just as tight, but it will lack some of the magic usually associated with European competition because of the absence of a continental side.
Indeed it may represent nothing more than a revamped, high class FA Cup final. Let’s just hope, whoever makes it to the Luzhniki Stadium, that it turns out to be a better game than last year’s snooze-fest at Wembley.”