Oh, do you remember those Glory, Glory European nights ? Yes ? Are you an elephant then ? It seems like an age since the White Hart Lane floodlights shone down on the all white clad lads as they stormed to evenings of memorable victory over the might that European football could offer. Yes, Lyn Oslo, UT Arad and Drogheda were blown away in a whirlwind of wondrous wizardry. There were goals galore by the great names associated with the club - Chris McGrath, Ray Evans, and Phil Holder. Where are they now when we need them ?
As European competitions expand quicker than Jurgen Klinsmann's bank balance, Tottenham are left in a railway siding in Luxembourg, while the champions of that country (a large wa-hoo goes out to anyone who can put a name to that team) roll into the mainline station of the UEFA Cup (at the very least). With the downsizing of the number of UEFA Cup berths available to English clubs, just because we have the "best (I.e. read "Biggest") league in Europe" (Copyright. Premier League), it needs a special team to be likely to go all the way. There has been some progress in the other two European competitions - the European Cup-Winners Cup (which has stayed true to it's original ideals, but because most top European sides do not view their national cup competitions with any seriousness, this is the easiest of the three to win) and the European Champions, Runners-up (and do you want to bring a mate with you) League/Knock-out competition Cup.
However, the UEFA (and the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, as its predecessor was known) was virtually resident in this country during the 70's and 80's. Undoubtedly, the most difficult European trophy to win as it contains an extra round of matches and contains more decent teams from each of the pre-eminent European countries. So, why is it that English clubs seem to fall by the wayside before reaching the closing stages of the competition ? Lack of European experience after the ban from taking part in the tournaments after the Heysel disaster could be one reason, but nowadays, most teams have European players in their sides. However, having said that, the Villa side consisted mainly of homegrown players from the British Isles and they have got to the quarterfinals before going out to Athletic Madrid. It could even be that English teams have adopted a more European approach to their play and this has led them to fall into their opponent's trap. It was always said that they feared the traditional values of English football - passion, strong centre forwards and a pace to the play that other nations could not maintain for 90 minutes. Has this heritage been diluted to such an extent that it has had a vastly detrimental effect on the success of our teams in Europe ? You would hope that the foreign players introduced into the Premiership would bring a touch of flair and artistry to add to the virtues already inherent in our game, but perhaps it has taken our clubs onto a more level playing field. Whilst not advocating a return to the style of play that was considered the typical "English game", perhaps a critical look at the way Premier League clubs play in European competitions needs to take place. I seem to remember that Glenn Hoddle and some of the leading clubs got together about a year ago in an effort to find some way forward, but it appears that little has been learned.
Manchester United's exit from the Champion's League at the hands of Monaco speaks volumes. Having achieved a 0-0 draw in the Principality, it was automatically assumed that it would only be a matter of time before united strode on to inevitably collect the trophy. Well, they hadn't bargained on Monaco's ability to pass and move. Their movement created space around United's midfield and on the flanks. It allowed the French side to hold the ball and open up the English champions with rapid burst into their danger areas. Admittedly, Man. U. Had injury problems, but they should have been able to field a side that would have been capable of winning the tie . Their lack of ambition in the first leg, when they were content to soak up Monaco's pressure and failed to seize the opportunity to take the game to them and their inability to keep a clean sheet in the second, cost them dear. While teams from other nations do not play as many "crunch" matches in their leagues, they manage to maintain a similar style of play throughout the campaign and take that into Europe. With English clubs, it appears that they have to have one style when they play in the league and a totally different one when they go into competitions with teams from the continent.
When Liverpool were successful in the late 70's and early 80's, they played in a manner that was a hybrid of English and European styles. There was no reliance on the long high ball to a strapping centre forward. More of a passing game that used wingers to get around the back of defences to provide opportunities for the front men. But, most of all, it was founded on a solid defence (Sometimes with a dodgy keeper, but basically a solid defence). Even Spurs' achievements in the early 1970's and 1980's were based on a decent defence (strange though it is to say that about a Spurs side). Their knack of obtaining an away goal meant that they could tighten up at Anfield or go for the kill. Their success continued utilising a fairly simple method. One that they used to great effect and virtually unchanged for their domestic programme.
Things tend to go in cycles in football, but a review of the performances of English clubs in European campaigns should be undertaken to try and rectify where we are going wrong. It shouldn't take a lot of effort to put things back on track and achieve the success of old once again. And, let's face it, things could be a lot worse. We could be talking about Scottish clubs in Europe !!
Back to homepage