Sam Wallace: Is the power of the Premier League in Europe waning?


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The Independent Online

You have to go back to the 1999-2000 season for the last time English football only had two clubs in the second round proper of the Champions League – Manchester United and Chelsea – and they were both knocked out in the quarter-finals.

Some will tell you that since these have been the golden years for English football in Europe culminating in 2009 when three English clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United – reached the semi-finals, although it was Barcelona who won the competition.

Today at the draw for the final 16 there will be only two Premier League clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea. That puts England on a par with Germany, Spain and Russia and one behind Italy who, with Milan, Internazionale and Napoli still in it, has more clubs in the final 16 than any other nation. The big question is: does this depleted representation have a wider significance for the standing of the Premier League?

At Premier League headquarters they would be delighted with an all-English line-up in the semi-finals of the competition one day, if only because of the annoyance it would provoke in Michel Platini, the Uefa president. As it stands, English football seems further away from that than it was two years ago.

Last year Arsenal went out to Barcelona in the last 16, with Robin Van Persie sent off in the first leg. The departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri make them weaker than 12 months ago. Neither Arsenal nor Chelsea have shown signs in the past two years that they are slowly building towards winning the competition. If anything, they are going in the opposite direction.

But is English football's impact in the Champions League in decline? The first obvious truth is that everyone is in Barcelona's shadow and even if there were still four English teams left it would still be doubtful whether any of them were capable of beating the defending champions. Secondly, Manchester City have only had one season in the Champions League and are sure to be stronger next year.

Italy also had three representatives last season and none made it beyond the quarter-finals. Two teams in the knockout stages is not terminal for English football, so long as it does not become a regular occurrence.