It’s a case of when, not if, tide will turn for English clubs
Premier League teams can expect more Champions League success
Leicester are the only English team left in the Champions League. How bad have things got and can they be put right? It is easier to describe what has happened than to explain.
There were English finalists in seven of the eight years from 2005 to 2012. During that time there were three years in a row when there were three English semi-finalists.
Between 2013 and 2016 there were no English finalists and only two English semi-finalists. This season Leicester are the only English team in the quarter-finals, which start tomorrow. Arsenal and Manchester City went out in the round of 16, Tottenham at the group stage.
So why have things gone wrong?
English teams in the Champions League in recent seasons have spent more on players than other teams in the Champions League. The relative levels are no different today than a few years back.
Between 2007 and 2009 there were always three English teams in the semi-finals. The average wage bill of English Champions League clubs was 60 per cent higher than the average wage bill of Spanish, German, Italian and French Champions League clubs.
Take three closer years. Between 2013 and 2015 there was only one English semi-finalist. But the average wage bill of English Champions League clubs was still 60 per cent higher than the average wage bill of Spanish, German, Italian and French Champions League clubs.
English teams should always enter the Champions League with high expectations. As a national group they have the best-paid players. That does not mean they should win or even reach the final every year, but it does suggest there should have been more of them than there have been in the last few years in the semi- and quarter-finals.
To repeat: why have things gone wrong?
Sir Alex Ferguson thinks that success in the Champions League comes in cycles. As manager of Manchester United he won the Champions League twice and reached two other finals. He said recently: “I think success is cyclical. If you think about the 90s, it was AC Milan. In the 70s, Ajax and Bayern Munich. In the 80s, Liverpool. In the 90s – Italy, AC Milan. Then England had a great spell with three teams about six years ago all in the semi-final. Manchester United were in three finals in four years.
“At the moment, the cycle is with the Spanish teams. They’re the best, and that’s why they’re winning. But that will change, that can change. You know, Ronaldo will get older, Messi will get older. Can they replace these players?”
That may be as close to the truth as anyone will get. There have always been clusters of success in the Champions League and its forerunner the European Cup – not only for English teams but also for Spanish, German and Italian teams. For Dutch and Portuguese teams too.
From a historical perspective, four years without an English finalist is not long. Four may or may not become five. There were no English finalists in the 11 years before Manchester United won in 1968 and none in the six years after. Then there were English finalists in nine of the 11 years between 1974 and 1985. After which there was only one English finalist in the next 13 years in which English teams competed.
The countries represented most often in Champions League and European Cup finals have been Spain, Italy, England and Germany. They were nearly twice as likely to be represented if they had also been represented the year before than if they had not.
Team-building is not a precise science. There are times when clubs from one country do it well and times when they do not. English football in the Champions League has dropped to a low tide, but it should rise. What we cannot say is when.
Red shirts a primary factor in success
Red-shirted football teams are the most successful, according to various researchers. For every team who become successful wearing red there will be an explanation that has nothing to do with the colour of their kit. Manchester United and Liverpool, for instance, wore red long before they were good. But red outfits could help a little.
At the 1998 World Cup broadcaster Jimmy Hill praised the Romania squad for dying their hair blond. He approved of anything that might help players to spot each other. Red is the easiest colour to see on a football pitch.
Charles Blanc explained why in a book called Grammar of the Visual Arts. It was published in 1867 – four years after the first rules of football.
Blanc said there are three primary colours and three secondary colours. The primary colours are red, yellow and blue. The secondary colours come between the primary colours and are made by mixing primary colours.
The secondary colours are orange, green and violet. Orange is a mixture of red and yellow, green is a mixture of yellow and blue, and violet is a mixture of blue and red.
Colours can be arranged in a circle. Imagine them round a clock – say, red at two o’clock, orange at four o’clock, yellow at six o’clock, green at eight o’clock, blue at ten o’clock and violet at 12 o’clock.
Blanc said that colours opposite each other – say those at six and 12 o’clock – are complementary colours. It is a potentially misleading term. Complementary in this sense does not mean that colours go well together. Rather it means they stand out when put next to each other.
For each primary colour the complementary colour is the one made by mixing the other primary colours. So the complementary colour for blue is made by mixing yellow and red, which gives orange. The complementary colour for yellow is made by mixing red and blue, which gives violet. And the complementary colour for red is made by mixing blue and yellow, which gives green.
Red never looks redder than when it is next to green.