England is home to the quickest, toughest and most fiercely-contested football league in the world. By nature, it’s a spectacular brand of football that has been growing stronger since the top-tier of English football was reformatted into the FA Premier League in 1992. Think back to 2004 when a young and fearless Manchester United side boasted the exquisite talents of the recently come-of-age Christiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. Or you could go back a little further to when a bold United side announced themselves as the Champions of Europe on their way to winning a famous treble in the 1999/2000 season.
This golden era of the game in England could, however, be under grave threat as more than ever spectacles are occurring off the pitch, not on it. The billionaire takeovers, player rows, sex scandals and the ‘Beckham conglomerate’ are of little surprise given that we’re talking about a league followed almost literally the world over. More press; more craziness. It was a trend though that surely seemed unable to sustain itself.
The recent summer of English football proved otherwise. Liverpool’s Luis Suarez was banned for eight games for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, despite denying the allegations. The affair was long and painful for pretty much everyone, with football proving to once again be blind of common sense and a disabler of human empathy. Chelsea, just half a year after performing the rare act of paying money to another club to secure the services of a manager, fired him. The club now appears to all extents and purposes to be in turmoil.
It was also the summer of comebacks. Both Thierry Henry and Paul Scholes returned to the pitch, proving useful if not revelatory. All the while, the United Arab Emirates bankrolled Manchester City continues to show money can buy a great quantity of success.
For a long time the media frenzy surrounding the English game did not seem to have an on-field impact. Whilst only winning once in the last five years, English teams have otherwise fared well in the Champions League. They have been runner’s up three times. Of the twelve semi-final spots available between 2007 and 2009, nine featured teams from the EPL. That’s an almost unprecedented level of dominance.
There are signs however that this era is over. This season only Chelsea and Arsenal made it past the group stages. Since then, Arsenal has already been knocked out and Chelsea is unlikely to progress further, meaning that for the first time in almost a decade England looks like it will fail to have a team in the Champions League quarterfinals.
Maybe it’s just that finally the off-field drama of the English game is taking its toll. The strength of their league has been an important crutch for many English fans disappointed by years of underachievement by the national team. Has the same curse that inflicts the Three Lions spread now to the Premier League? It may very well be too early to tell. At the same time, one can’t help but think that if the media continues to preference scandal over Swansea’s breathtaking possession stats, then it’s less than likely an English rally is on the horizon.