Champions League: English football on the brink of a new golden era of European success, says Gary Lineker
After years in the wilderness, England’s top clubs are poised to enter a new golden era of footballing success in Europe. That’s what Gary Lineker thinks at least.
There was plenty to take from a 30 minute chat with the former Leicester striker, but it was the topic of Champions League football that raised the most eyebrows.
For years now, England’s teams have struggled in Europe’s elite competition. The last four finals have not featured a single side from the Premier League while the last all-English final stretches back to 2008.
Although Chelsea may have lifted the Champions League trophy back in 2012, beating Bayern Munich 4-3 penalties in their own back yard, their success was by no means a reflection of English supremacy at the time.
But on the back of a record-breaking transfer window, during which the Premier League flexed its financial muscles and brought in some of the biggest names in the sport, there’s a growing sense among many, Lineker included, that English football is finally returning to its former lofty heights.
“It’s only a matter of time,” the pundit remarked.
“In terms of success of countries in international football, obviously at the moment Spanish football is super-dominant, and we’ve seen that not only in the Champions League but also in the Europa League as well.
“But now we’re seeing that the best coaches in the world go to our league and I think what will ensue is that the best players in the world will come to our league because our league is where all the real money is.
“It might not be this generation in terms of the Messis and Ronaldos, it’s a bit late for them. But I’m almost convinced that we’ll see the next superstars come to our league and our big clubs will be the Barcelonas and Real Madrids of tomorrow.
“It might take a year, two years, three years, but I think it will happen. The amount of money that comes into the Premier League is so great that the only other place that could compete is China and big players are not going to want to go there until the end of their careers.”
Although the 55-year-old was right to admit Spanish football is “super-dominant” at the moment, it’s evident to see the seismic forces currently at work within the Premier League – forces that, as Lineker predicts, will blow fortune in the direction of England’s top clubs.
Indeed, Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City was the first significant indication of the summer that the Premier League is back on the upward trajectory. A manager of his stature and ability will pay dividends not just for the club but for English football too as more ‘superstars’ flock to the league.
City have already brought in some of the game’s most exciting names under the Catalan, including Ilkay Gundogan and Leroy Sane, while their performance in the Manchester derby attests to what is to come – both in England and Europe.
Lineker himself believes that City offer the best chance of returning European glory to England.
“I think they are certainly more competitive than they have been in recent years,” he said. “Obviously they got to the semi-final last year, although they didn’t play brilliantly to get there.
“But Guardiola, the fact that he has managed to change the manner of the way they play so quickly, he has got it over to the players so quickly, it says quite a lot about his players as well. They’ve adapted quickly. They are intelligent. But it shows what a master teacher he clearly is to do it so quickly.
“I suspect City will be our club that would have the best chance of success this season in the Champions League and they could conceivably go all the way.
“But it’s his first season and it’s going to be difficult as he found at Bayern Munich. It’s a knockout competition and you play against great sides towards the latter stages.
“So it’s difficult but I think they’ll have a better chance than they’ve had in recent years.”
It’s not just about the managers though. As Gary pointed out, “our league is where all the real money is”.
Roughly £1.17bn was spent by the Premier League throughout this year’s summer transfer window – almost double what Serie A spent (£590m) and nearly triple the La Liga’s spending (£400m).
In particular, Paul Pogba’s record-breaking move to United further suggests that the tables are slowly starting to turn for English football.
Home to some of the biggest and best managers in the world, and with the money to match, perhaps Lineker is right to suggest then that the next generation of superstars, the ‘Messis and Ronaldos’ as he terms it, will be making their way to England in the next couple of years.
“Whether it produces the best football in the world or not is for other people to decide, but it’s an exciting league and every game is competitive and people love it around the world,” Lineker added.
“It’s a financial triumph so in the end that’s where all the big players will come. We’ve got all the big managers and we’ll have all the big players.”
As for Leicester’s chances, however, the BT Sport presenter was not quite as optimistic.
When asked if the Foxes could emulate the European success of Nottingham Forest in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lineker admitted: “Realistically, of course it is beyond the realms of possibility.
“In many ways, if you get through the group stage, which they have got a reasonable chance of doing, but then you get to the knockout stage and I suppose in many ways it is easier to win something like that than something with 38 games where you have got to do it over a long period of time. In a knockout thing it is a little bit different.
“But Leicester against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich? Realistically, if they had kept that team from last season together you’d still have said no chance. Now they are without the little fella [N’Golo Kante] as well, of course they have got no chance.”
So will he be placing another bet anytime soon?
“I am not going to make any silly promises. Even though it worked last season, I will not be doing that again.”
It seems Gary has learnt his lesson, maybe. Even so, when it comes to his beloved Leicester, you can’t help but think he’d be happy to be proved wrong all over again.
BT Sport is the only place to watch all four major football competitions in one place, with exclusively live coverage of the Premier League, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and the Emirates FA Cup. Watch Leicester versus Club Brugge in the UEFA Champions League exclusively live on BT Sport 2 from 7pm on Wednesday September 14.
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