Thursday, 17 January 2013

The power shift within European football.

Throughout recent years, European football has been primarily dominated by the clubs of two respective countries; Spain and England. Germany and Italy have meanwhile been left to fight it out for the honour of having the third strongest league in the continent. Over the last few years, this has begun to change a bit. The German Bundesliga is now beginning to maintain a serious challenge to be seen as Europe's second strongest league, ahead of England's Premier League.

I think it's safe to say that Spain's La Liga is now the dominant league in Europe, boasting of being the home of what are probably the two best teams in the world in Barcelona and Real Madrid. However, if the German game continues to grow in the same way it has over the last few years, it will not be too long before it knocks La Liga off the top. With the arrival of Pep Guardiola in Germany, there is now a serious chance that this could happen. 

Pep will take the reigns at FC Bayern Munich in July. He could be the key ingredient in making the Bavarians the kings of Europe in the coming years. It's not as if they are a million miles away as it is.

FC Bayern have reached two of the last three Champions League finals, 2010 and 2012 respectively. They were unfortunate in losing out on both occasions. In 2010, they faced an extremely well organised Internazionale team. Under the wizardry of José Mourinho, Inter had managed to knock out Barcelona and Chelsea en route to the final. This Inter team also had an on-form Diego Milito leading the line - a man who was seemingly unstoppable in the final. So there was no shame in being defeated on this occasion. In 2012, they faced an equally stubborn Chelsea side who managed to defend their way past Barcelona after beating Benfica and a heroic victory over Napoli at Stamford Bridge when they seemed as good as out of the tournament. Bayern knocked on the door for 120 minutes in the final. Mario Gomez uncharacteristically missed several chances, Arjen Robben missed a couple including an extra-time penalty, as did Franck Ribéry. Bayern scored late on and had the game as good as won until Chelsea got their first corner of the game deep into extra-time and scored through a powerful bullet like attempt, courtesy of the head of Didier Drogba. The match went on to penalties, where Chelsea were came through victorious, so once again, there was no shame in losing this particular match despite being overwhelming favourites.

Thanks to the efforts of Bayern and others, the Budesliga has been given an extra place for the Champions League. Germany will now have 4 places, this itself shows that German football is already becoming stronger and more of a force when it comes to European club competitions. Take this years group stages for example and you can see proof that German sides are a force to be reckoned with in Europe. Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke all topped their groups. Dortmund and Schalke both finished above English sides in the process. 

Compare this to the success of English clubs in the Champions League this season. Only Manchester United went through as group leaders, Arsenal finished runners up to Schalke, Manchester City were knocked out of a group which was topped by Dortmund, and Chelsea also found themselves exiting the tournament at this premature stage. This is the second consecutive season that two English teams have crashed out before the knockout rounds. Last season Manchester City were joined by their city neighbours United.

Under the management of Guardiola, a man who won everything he possibly could with Barcelona while maintaining a win percentage of 72%, it would be no surprise to see Bayern win the Champions League in the next year or two. Guardiola, or the professor, as he is known, is a phenomenal coach. Winning 178 of his 248 matches in charge of Barecelona supports this. He also won a total of 14 titles in his time with Barcelona, this averages out as being a title every 17.7 matches. Yes, you read that right, one title every 17.7 matches . His personal accolades also suggest that he is a manager who will bring success to Bayern. In 2011 he was named as FIFA's manager of the year. He was announced as the LFP manager of the year in 2009 and 2011 respectively. He was also voted as the world's best manager in two respective years by World Soccer, once again in 2009 and 2011.

The combination of a man with these honours and a team who look set to win the Bundesliga as well as mount another serious challenge for European success will undoubtedly spell danger for other European clubs. 

Bayern are only going to improve under him. They may well even go on to be the dominant force in Europe. Bayern, however, are not the only team that English and Spanish teams will need to worry a little bit more about. The likes of Dortmund and Schalke have to try to compete with Bayern every single week. In order to do this they are going to have to strengthen further. This is frightening if you are a fan of an English side. Dortmund have come on leaps and bounds in the last three years and for them to go on and become even better could see English clubs becoming less and less influential and dominant when it comes to the latter stages of the Champions League. Dortmund have already brushed aside the English champions as have Schalke with Arsenal, what could happen should these sides become stronger? 

English football will need to respond. For years it has had a certain arrogance about it and is often referred to within the country as being the best league in the world. Will Pep's arrival in Germany make the English supporters and press reevaluate their league? Only time will tell. In order to compete in the coming years they will definitely have to. Real Madrid and Barcelona are going nowhere anytime soon and with the growth of Bayern and Dortmund England needs to react. 

One thing that Dortmund, Barcelona and Bayern all have in common is that they all encourage an attractive, easy on the eye playing style. This seems to be the way forward for football. The Spanish national side that have won three successive trophies made it the popular thing to do. Barcelona have proved that it can work in European club football. Bayern and Dortmund don't strictly play the same way as the Spanish national team or the Catalan club side, but their respective styles are without doubt streets ahead of that of their English counterparts. Arsenal are the only side who really attempt to play in a similar fashion. Chelsea are also taking steps towards that particular way of playing. This may well be the only way of progression for English sides. Chelsea won the Champions League last year by playing a completely polar opposite style, but on another day they would have been put to the sword by Barca and Bayern who passed up countless golden opportunities in their respective matches. 

So what exactly does Pep Guardiola's move to FC Bayern mean for European football? Pep could prove to be a catalyst in the potential power shift that is to come in the next few years. Watch this space - European football is changing.

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