‘THE English are coming.’
Not so long ago, four words capable of sending a chill down the collective spine of Europe as it meant the hooligans were on their way.
Now, though, it is on the football fields of the continent where the English are doing the most damage.
This season’s two major Euro finals are both all-Premier League affairs. Chelsea and Arsenal will tomorrow go head-to-head for the right to be crowned Europa League winners, three days before Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool do battle in Madrid for the Champions League.
Supporters of even the cream of La Liga, the Bundesliga and Serie A can only look on with envy. That jealousy may yet extend into next week, too, when attention turns to the international game.
Again, England will be centre stage, this time joined by Switzerland, Holland and Portugal as the inaugural UEFA Nations League reaches a climax.
Now, the German FA looks to England for tips on development and the debate centres on why their home-grown players do not boast the same individual skills as those reared in the Premier League Academies.Chief football writer Richard Sutcliffe
Gareth Southgate’s side, fresh from reaching the last four of the World Cup a little under a year ago, tackle the Dutch on Thursday week in Guimares, where victory will mean a chance to end 53 years of hurt by lifting a major trophy three days later in Porto.
It is a tantalising prospect and one that if it comes to fruition will continue a remarkable upturn in the fortunes of England’s footballers just three years on from the debacle that was Iceland inflicting a knockout blow on Roy Hodgson’s flops at Euro 2016.
Just how big that recovery has been is perhaps best illustrated by the various successes enjoyed by England’s under-age sides.
England are the holders of the Under-17s and Under-20s World Cups. The Under-19s were also crowned European champions in 2017, while the Under-21s are joint favourites with Spain to triumph at next month’s European Championships in Italy.
The record against the traditional football superpowers is equally impressive with the Under-17s unbeaten in six meetings with Germany and Brazil having been beaten twice in a row by the Three Lions at the same age group by three goals to one.
This dominance has brought about a huge role reversal. Now, the German FA looks to England for tips on development and the debate centres on why their home-grown players do not boast the same individual skills as those reared in the Premier League Academies.
Jadon Sancho’s success in the Bundesliga has only heightened the sense in a country with four World Cups and three European Championships to its name that they are now playing catch-up with the English.
Just when this translates into the Premier League elite giving a long overdue chance to youth remains to be seen.
The percentage of players eligible for Three Lions duty who appear in the top flight continues to fall each year.
But, at least those fortunate to get game-time are benefiting from surely the most competitive elite competition in the world.
Manchester City and Liverpool may have been streets ahead of everyone else last season but there was still the potential for one or the other to stumble during that enthralling run-in.
It took an extraordinary winner from Vincent Kompany to deny Leicester City a point less than a week before Pep Guardiola’s side were crowned champions after beating Brighton 5-1 on the final day.
Even at the Amex, however, City fell behind, while Wolverhampton Wanderers were arguably the better side in losing at Anfield on the same afternoon.
May also brought a victory for Bournemouth over Tottenham, while Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw on home soil by Brighton. Even Huddersfield Town displayed sufficient fight and motivation in earning a point at home to Manchester United to leave visiting captain Ashley Young to bemoan, ‘It was a Cup final for them’. Not quite, Ashley, but the Terriers did undoubtedly do justice to a competition that remains as combative as it does enthralling.
This need to be up for battle every single week is surely a contributory factor in why English clubs have fared so well in Europe.
When a side needs to dig deep into their resolve a la Liverpool at home to Barcelona or Spurs in Amsterdam, they are able to do so. This competition is why the TV cash still rolls in.
Monies may have peaked domestically and be on the way down, as leading industry analyst Claire Enders suggested to the FT Business Summit just last week.
But the Premier League’s appeal around the world means any potential shortfall is likely to be made up from overseas rights.
This financial dominance of Europe is likely to continue. La Liga chiefs may have made reference much earlier this month as to how their annual revenue had reached record levels but even the £3.86bn banked collectively by Spain’s top 42 clubs in 2017-18 is £1bn shy of what the Premier League generated alone.
Germany, with £3.88bn, is also in record-breaking territory but remains in the slipstream of England’s top division, as does Serie A. This explains why Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli and others in the European Club Association are so keen to expand the Champions League to the detriment of the domestic leagues.
Watching what has been dubbed ‘the Full English’ from the sidelines in Baku and Madrid is only going to strengthen that resolve to bring about change.
It is to be hoped they fail. For now, though, every fan of football in this country should sit back, grab a beer and enjoy what may well be a golden fortnight in the history of English football.