One of the more frustrating narratives spewed out by the Premier League’s perpetually spinning hype-machine has always been its self-portrayal as the undisputed ‘best league in the world.’
All the more so given that, for a significant proportion of the competition’s existence, such a notion has been palpably untrue.
By way of example, just four times since the league’s inception in 1992 has an English outfit actually succeeded in winning the Champions League. Moreover, on two – perhaps even three – of those occasions it would be disingenuous to suggest the sides that did so were genuinely the best teams in Europe. (Hello, Djimi Traore).
Arguably, only Manchester United’s ’99 and ’08 generations came close to meriting such a description.
Mostly, this is because until very recently the true elite of the world football set weren’t interested in playing for English clubs (who, additionally, were rarely managed by the best coaches in the world).
Those that did soon left for Barcelona, Real Madrid or their ilk: for the majority of the 1990s, the early 2000s and the first half of the 2010s, the planet’s finest were to be found on the books of Italian and Spanish giants.
Even during the 2005-2010 golden age, there was probably only the odd season or two when it would have been fair to claim that the Premier League was the highest standard top-tier competition on the continent.
For its die-hards, of course, that’s only tangential – the Premier League, they would argue, is superior because of the atmosphere in its grounds, its competitiveness, the spectacle of it all.
To this type of person, the technical level and quality of the football is secondary: the overall ‘product’ is king.
To be fair, there’s an argument to be made that the Premier League has long been the most ‘entertaining’ of Europe’s biggest competitions. Such a notion is wildly subjective, of course, but few others compare in terms of the madcap excitement and chaos of your average PL clash.
But if you’re going to call yourself the best, you must have something to back it up. Despite all the facile arguments about late-season ‘tiredness’ and ‘fatigue’ affecting Premier League sides, there can be no more accurate barometer in that regard than England’s record in the Champions League. And, well, four from 25 doesn’t exactly make a great case.
Now, however, it’s different. Alongside a general weakening of the German, Italian and Spanish divisions, the Premier League has become a behemoth. Apart from a few examples, the world’s best footballers are coming to England, attracted by obscene wages, excellent facilities and the possibility of working with blue-chip managers.
There’s no longer much of a rebuttal to the thesis that the strongest sides in the sport are to be found in the land of hope and glory.
There are five or six clubs in the competition who would have a reasonable tilt at winning any league you’d care to mention.
Even former harlequins like Tottenham Hotspur must these days be considered global powers, as evidenced by their defeats of Real Madrid and Dortmund, while heavyweights like Manchester City and Manchester United may have no equal in the world outside their hometown.
What was once mere hubris is now reality. For the first time in a long time, the Premier League has the bite to match its bark. It would be no surprise to see one of its members having their name engraved on the Champions League trophy in May.