For the second time in three years, the Champions League final will be all-English as Chelsea take on Manchester City, and 2017 winners Manchester United will contest this year’s Europa League final too.
It backs up the Premier League’s often-made claim to be in the world‘s best.
It is comfortably the richest but having experienced it first-hand this season, Leeds United coach Bielsa believes there is more to it than that.
“I have a lot of admiration and respect for what the English league has been able to do in a structural sense,” said the former Argentina and Chile coach who spent the two previous seasons in the Championship with Leeds.
“The English authorities have multiplied their greatness and I can summarise it quickly. It gives me pleasure to.
“The refereeing in England can be better or worse, but they always try to ensure the rules favour the game. This helps the structure. It can’t be better – considering, for example, the pitches and to not even talk about the influence of the fans who don’t just prize the victory.
“Its financial power is not the determining factor.
“The greatness in the English game is in the competitiveness of the leagues and the assimilation of the natural results.”
Having too often lagged behind in previous years, the development of St George’s Park and the focus on youth coaching which went with it spectacularly bore fruit in 2017 when England were Under-20 and Under-17 World Cup winners. Sheffield’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin, scorer of the only goal in the Under-20 final, and player of the Under-17 tournament Phil Foden seem certain to be part of Gareth Southgate’s senior European Championships squad.
“I think it is fundamental what the authorities have done to help the development of young players,” said Bielsa. “English football has managed to capitalise on their qualities.
“The players available to England at the moment who are around 20 years-old can compete around the highest level. Compared with the number the rest of the powerful nations in the world have, it’s very good.
“England’s young players are shining right now. Very few nations have five attackers like the ones England have right now – wingers, strikers and offensive midfielders. All of this is not casual, it is has been induced and does not depend only on money, but ideas.”
For the rest of Europe, as for teams like Leeds also trailing England’s elite, the challenge is to catch up.
Returning to the theme of last month, Bielsa does not think the solution is simply allowing more to play against them in European competition.
Next season sees the introduction of a third European club competition, the Conference League, and whilst the idea of a European super league was firmly rejected last month, as the idea was debated Uefa voted through an expanded 10-game Champions League group stage.
“Real Madrid, Chelsea, City and Paris Saint-Germain should be studied,” said Bielsa. “I don’t feel capable of communicating the conclusions these games (between them in this week’s Champions League semi-finals) have left.
“Evidently there is a modern football being constructed by great coaches and great players.
“When we talk so much about European competitions, from my point of view it’s not about more games or more teams reaching these competition, there should be fewer games and fewer teams but the teams that do play in it should deserve it because of the quality of how they play.
“Sometimes more teams debilitate the competition because they arrive into places of privilege without demonstrating they deserve to be there. The fight has to be to create teams of higher quality.”
Leeds continue their challenge to finish in the top half of this season’s Premier League at home to Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow without Helder Costa, whose season has been ended by injury. They will make late checks on the fitness of Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha, and have Liam Cooper available again after suspension.
Pascal Struijk has deputised ably in Cooper’s three-match absence for a red card in the win at Manchester City, but it may not be enough to stop the captain returning.
“(Diego) Llorente and Pascal have showed they can live up to the level that those who previously played in this position were playing at,” explained Bielsa. “(But) I will always consider what’s best for the team and for each player that participates.”
Bielsa also expressed his hope that Ezgjan Alioski can reach an agreement to stay at the club beyond his current contract, which expires in the summer. He has given his view to the hierarchy, but stressed it was for them and the player to make the decisions.
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