Are English clubs on free-fall?

JOHANNESBURG - On Tuesday, Arsenal lost to Greek champions Olympiacos while cross-town rivals Chelsea gave boss Jose Mourinho a nightmarish return to Portugal when the Londoners lost 2-1 to Porto.It set all sections of the media abuzz on what was happening with the English game.

Were English clubs on a free-fall? Or had their hectic programme caught up with them or were they just experiencing a rough patch?

Despite Manchester United’s unconvincing 2-1 win over Wolfsburg and another battling win by Manchester City in Germany over Borussia Monchengladbach, recent talk has centred on the alarming decline by the English clubs.

The rot continued in the Europe League competition when Tottenham were held to a 1-1 draw by Monaco, Liverpool held by Swiss side Sion and another British side Celtic and Fenerbahce drew 2-all.

Not long ago, the likes of Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool dominated European club football hence the England sides were always assured of four teams in the elite tournament.

However, the number might be sliced away if most of the clubs competing in this year’s Uefa Champions League or Europa League tournament don’t make it to the knock-out stages; which is a great possibility.

The four England clubs in the Champions League have been far from convincing and a slice of luck that saw Man U ride over the German opposition, underlined problems in the English game.

With little break and high intensity affairs week in, week out, there are fears that most players in England are fatigued early into the season and are no match for fresher opponents on the continent.

No one can dispute that having witnessed Arsenal lose to unfancied opponents like Dynamo Zagreb or the Greek champions that something is terribly wrong with the English game.

Yet that blanket statement might be seen as stretching things a bit too far. Yes, the English game is by far the most popular game in the world and has been marketed effectively far and wide, hence its unmatched popularity.

We all watch our favourite teams and players every week and that has somehow given football fans some “blinkers” to think that world club football begins and ends in England.

Most countries have been improving and doing so silently the world over and some have pulled alongside or even overtaken the likes of Man U, City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea of this world.

Did I hear a few who despite the English game say, but the best leagues in the world have always been those of Spain and Germany or in the recent past, Italy.

I beg to differ because in those countries, you can only count one or two teams that dominate the game; the rest are there just to add the numbers.

Truth is in England, all clubs compete and anyone can beat another on a given day.

So whatever reasons are advanced, the harsh reality is the rest of Europe have gotten England clubs’ numbers and are threatening to run them down. We are fast witnessing that harsh reality, sad as it might appear to those for whom watching English football has become part of their lives.

It is something which we never fathomed a few years ago that the country with the richest club income would struggle like this at this stage. But there it is, right in front of our eyes.

Can the English clubs turn things around?

Only time will tell.

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