After years in the wilderness, English football has risen again to dominate the continent — in both skills and wealth. How is football played across Europe, and is this a golden age for English football?
What is special about football in Europe?
Football is the world’s favourite sport, played by nearly 300 million people around the globe. But Europe alone is home to the world’s biggest clubs (including all 20 of the world’s richest teams) and the Champions League, which many regard as the world’s most prestigious football tournament.
Brazil may have the most World Cup wins in history, but Europe is where the best players go for club football. In total, 824 Brazilian players are in European leagues, including 58 in the Premier League.
Is football played differently across Europe?
Each European league has its own characteristic style. English football is famously physical, fast and direct, in contrast to the slower, more defensive and highly tactical Italian game. German teams are famed for their tight organisation, and a style that is not pretty but effective. Spain’s football, meanwhile, is all about short passes and flamboyant ball skills.
But which league is the best?
Of course, every country loves their own league but most fans agree that there are only two real contenders for Europe’s best: the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga.
The Premier League is easily the most watched sports league in the world. It is screened in 212 countries to 643 million homes, with a potential TV audience of 4.7 billion people.
But, for years, we have been living in an era of Spanish dominance in Europe. Seven of the last 12 Champions League finalists have come from Spain’s La Liga. What’s more, Spanish teams, led by Real Madrid and Barcelona, have won 10 of the last 14 combined Champions and Europa Leagues.
And La Liga’s global appeal is growing, helped by the presence of the world’s two most famous football players, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in Spanish teams.
But in 2019, England was back on top. Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal all made it into the finals of the Champions League and the Europa League.
It was the first time in history that all four finalists in Europe’s two major tournaments have come from one country.
Is this a golden age for English football?
English football is certainly in good condition. And it’s not just club football. Confounding expectations, England reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup for the first time in almost three decades, and followed up with success in the Nations League.
In the early 2000s, the so-called golden generation of England players, including Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard, failed to ever get past the World Cup quarter-finals. Many of today’s England stars are still in the early days of their careers, so fans believe the future is bright.
But how are they doing it?
There’s no doubt that English clubs have the spending power. English teams make up six of the world’s 10 richest clubs, with lucrative TV deals earning the Premier League around £5 billion a year.
But it’s not just about money. England has secured the best managers in the world with the likes of Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp; Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino; and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola. Each has brought their signature style with them. Liverpool now plays a modern German game, while Chelsea’s style is distinctly Neapolitan thanks to former Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri.
According to sports writer Barney Ronay, England’s success was built in Europe. Despite being dominated by English clubs, just eight of 88 starting players in the 2019 Europe and Champions League semi-finals were English.
As Britain seeks to break away from the continent with Brexit, football is success story of European collaboration.
- Is football the best sport in the world?
- Which football club is the best in the world? Write a one-minute speech stating your case. Get into pairs and debate your choices.
- Champions League
- Contested by the top clubs in each European league.
- Brazilian player Neymar became the most expensive player in history, when he was bought by Paris Saint Germain for £200 million in 2017.
- The team made a stunning comeback to beat Barcelona after losing 0-3 in the first leg of the game, winning 4-0 in the second match. Champions League games, apart from the final, are played in two matches.
- Europa League
- A league made up of a group of European teams that did not make it into the Champions League. Generally, the teams that come fourth to seventh in the Premier League qualify for the Europa League.
- Nations League
- An international tournament that was formed in 2018. A team can use the Nations League to qualify for the European Championships.