James Lawton: Premier League's triumph a victory for foreign legion

Perhaps Steven Gerrard will have something to say about it at San Siro next week – as he did in Istanbul three years ago – but this week of all weeks you couldn't help notice. The more the Premier League grows strong in Europe the less evidence there is of influence born and fashioned at home.

Indeed, there were times when the overwhelming sense was not so much of a vibrant football nation but an island base strategically placed and leased for foreign invasion.

Maybe it should be a small caution in a week of undiluted triumph, and the most compelling evidence so far that, but for a pocket of excellence in Barcelona, the centres of power are no longer in places like Madrid and Milan and Turin, yet here is a frightening question: what if suddenly the colonisers of English football disappeared?

Quite how would the map of the Champions League have been coloured this week? Not with the green of the Premier League's founding paymaster and Citizen Kane, the Australian-born Rupert Murdoch. Nor by courtesy of the league's richest investor, the Russian Roman Abramovich. The technical areas would have been without Arsène Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson and Avram Grant – and next week there would have been no Rafa Benitez attempting to guide Liverpool against Internazionale, on very favourable terms, towards their third European Cup final in four years.

Out on the field England could only be grateful for the late intervention of the young and finally roused Theo Walcott, whose perfect run and cross in the last minute meant that the cutting edge of Arsenal's superb demolition of the reigning champions Milan was not entirely the work of Cesc Fabregas from Spain, Mathieu Flamini from France and Emmanuel Adebayor from Togo.

For the same reason, and however ambivalent you might be about certain of his attitudes, it was a relief to see Frank Lampard flying England's flag beside a dominating performance from Germany's Michael Ballack. Yet this was unlikely to still fears about the effect of the possible departure of Didier Drogba.

There was similar concern at Old Trafford, where Wayne Rooney had a quiet night and the debt to Cristiano Ronaldo was racked up another notch with his decisive goal against Lyons. Paul Scholes, the best English midfielder of his generation, sat on the bench and watched his designator successor, the Brazilian Anderson.

Of course the damage has long been identified and acted upon. Of the top 10 Premier League clubs, two are managed by Englishmen, Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth and West Ham's Alan Curbishley, and if you are looking for a bit more symbolism, where are they placed? Ninth and 10th. No, there were no new patterns this week in the reality that saw Sven Goran Eriksson become England's first foreign manager and the appointment of Fabio Capello almost a formality, only an emphasis which has never been more obvious.

It is probably only depressing if you have been slow to accept that the old borders of football long ago were washed away by the waves of television money generated most hugely in England. Certainly, Fabregas would have been no more uplifting to the hearts of Arsenal fans had he been raised in Camden Town rather than Catalonia.

There was also no doubt it was Arsenal who gave most cause for celebration in the show of Premier League power. The bookmakers rate the chances of Manchester United 7-2 behind the 100-30 favourites, Barça, and Chelsea 9-2, more highly than Wenger's men, who are offered at 5-1. Yet it was Arsenal, with their walk-on Englishman, who made the blood run most strongly.

Short of recruiting droves of local talent, they could not have done more for the idea that in a league dominated by foreign players, and so much foreign investment, it is still possible to be both idealistic about the way you build a football team – and successful.

Wenger and his team had terrible notices going into San Siro and it would be a reinvention of facts to suggest that some of them were not deserved. Wenger had legitimate points to make about the tackle that may have wrecked the career of Eduardo da Silva, and he made them, but not without more cost to his reputation for not seeing much else beyond his own interests. The team were shocking when they made their exit from the FA Cup at Old Trafford and their subsequent performances, albeit no doubt influenced by the Eduardo trauma, were stripped of conviction.

Yet which follower of English football, even after acknowledging the clear signs of Milan's decline, could not have been proud that it was as representatives of the Premier League that Wenger's young team so dazzled the great stadium in Milan?

Maybe such a level of inspiration will help to irrigate the roots of the English game. Certainly, the performances of Fabregas and Flamini and Adebayor contained qualities that belonged not to the borders of their birthplaces but a universal game. Walcott, who for a worrying time seemed to be becalmed, and rather dull, in his natural talent, now appears to be bounding forward. It is as though the euro, rather than the penny, has dropped.

Chelsea will be girding their power for quarter-final opposition rather more serious than that offered by Olympiakos and United surely knowt they will need to sharpen their efforts after a mostly confused effort against Lyons.

Liverpool? According to their great old player Ian St John, a withering critic of the rotation policies of both Benitez and his predecessor, Gérard Houllier, they are last resembling a team of some consistent potency. "The way they closed down West Ham, the way they stripped them of all options, could not have been more encouraging for the trip to Italy" he said.

It helped that Fernando Torres, born in Madrid, scored another mesmerising hat-trick, and did anyone at Anfield care about his origins? Not for a second. The Premier League is bound to conclude that, apart from dominating the Champions League, it has also truly made its own world. It just happens, for the moment, to be England – at least for 38 games.

English teams in quarter-finals

2000 (2)

Man Utd (lost to Real Madrid)

Chelsea (lost to Barcelona)

2001 (3)

Man Utd (lost to Bayern Munich)

Leeds Utd (beat Deportivo)

Arsenal (lost to Valencia)

2002 (2)

Man Utd (beat Deportivo)

Liverpool (lost to Bayer Lev)

2003 (1)

Man Utd (lost to Real Madrid)

2004 (2)

Chelsea bt Arsenal

2005 (2)

Liverpool (beat Juventus)

Chelsea (beat Bayern Munich)

2006 (1)

Arsenal (beat Juventus)

2007 (3)

Liverpool (beat PSV)

Man Utd (beat AS Roma)

Chelsea (beat Valencia)

2007-08 (3, possibly 4)

Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, and possibly Liverpool

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