That Daily Mail headline looks even sillier now. After Milan’s 4-0 hammering of Arsenal, the Mail’s ill-judged “Arsenal and Chelsea have nothing to fear” and “Serie A on the slide” comments looked a bit silly, but after last night’s result the piece should be filed alongside their now infamous “The best players in the world (and Xavi)” from a few years ago.
We all know the British footballing press is very insular – and frankly the right-leaning Mail is more than most – but Napoli’s 3-1 win over Chelsea allied to their compatriots win over The Gunners shows sections of the press up for frankly having little or no knowledge of the overseas game, assuming that because Serie A, by and large, lacks true big name “world class” talent that their teams would be inferior to the much-hyped Premier League sides. All this despite the fact that Milan are Italy’s reigning champions and were playing last seasons 4th best English side and the fact that dangerous Napoli had knocked out the Premier League’s table toppers and champions elect Manchester City. They may not have the world’s most famous players but Milan could call on the likes of Robinho, Pato and Ibrahimovic while Napoli have the underrated Ilner, the clever Hamsik and the Herculean man-monster that is Edinson Cavani.
The idea that Serie A is generally on the slide though is not that controversial, in fact it’s hardly a new thought – despite the Mail presenting it as such – but what was ridiculous was to dismiss the Italians and assume that two stuttering English clubs with under pressure managers would steamroller them with their pure Premier League power. Furthermore if we accept Serie A has been on the slide for a few years then do these recent results mean the Premier League is on the slide too?
After all The Best League In The World (TM) has seen its top two sides, including its champions, fall at the Champions League group stages this year and now it looks as though its other two representatives at Europe’s top table will take their leave at the first knockout round. Of course it must be noted that the second legs are still to go but even the myopic Wenger admits Arsenal have a “0% to 5% chance” of overturning a 4-0 defecit and while Chelsea’s task is not so gargantuan – they go in to the second leg two goals down, and having scored an away goal in Naples – you would be a fool to think Napoli will be overawed at Stamford Bridge and roll over to let Chelsea win.
There are some mitigating factors to the English clubs’ failures. Manchester City, for all the money spent, were in their first season as a Champions League team and perhaps lacked some of the nous and guile needed to progress, and it’s worth noting they were in one of the hardest groups. Their neighbours United meanwhile paid the price for complacency and fielding weakened sides in what should have been a simple group. Arsenal’s current woes are obvious and well-documented while Chelsea are having a season of both transition and turmoil as new young manager Andres Villas-Boas tries to impose his will on a divided dressing room.
It may be then that this year is a one-off for English clubs in the Champions League, a mere blip. Perhaps next season Manchester City, now with Champions League experience and (probably) a league title, not to mention more money spent in the summer, will trample over Europe the may many in England expected them to this year. Alex Ferguson is unlikely to let complacency seep in again next year whatever group United face. One would hope that Arsenal and Chelsea – should both make it and both have the same men in charge – would have seen a clear out and squad strenghtening. Should one or both not make it, the likes of Spurs and/or Liverpool will come to the Champions League with fire in their bellies and a surprise or two for Europe’s big guns.
So is this a blip or the start of a trend? It’s too early to tell, but the nation’s press should be wary of printing any more “Foreign League on the slide” stories. Pretty soon the Premier League could be on the receiving end of them.