Artificially Greener Grass

There is an aspect in human nature to destroy that which is familiar in order to promote an opposing hegemony. A trait that deliberately advertises one’s knowledge as beyond that which has been feed to them. An opinion that elevates them to an all knowing zenith from where they can oversee the philistines consuming their entry level information. It is this mindset that will have people inform you that The Wire is better than the Sopranos, that Ibiza is better in the winter and that the Smiths are better than the Beatles. All opinions as valid as any but with a pattern of being forced as fact.

Of a similar ilk is the much promoted idea that the Barclays Premiership is overrated, financially bloated and employing a widespread lack of quality below that of what it once had. The forward thinking members of this belief system will point to Spain’s La Liga competition as Europe’s flagship league. Images of one’s urination from on high to the English product are frequently suggested throughout internet and pub debates. Certainly their case is strong. In Barcelona and Real Madrid, La Liga possesses arguably the world’s finest two teams, with a tighter condensing of the planet’s top 20 players than any other two could offer. This year they also provide three out of four semi finalists in Europe’s second competition, the Europa League. Certainly two facts that would add heavy weight to the superiority of Spain’s competition. But as the dust settles on this week’s Champions League semi finals, that weight is eased.

Barcelona have been described so often as the world’s greatest ever football team that its almost morphed in to fact. A team considered so fluid it would seem they almost patented passing. Every side capable of finding a member of their own team more than 3 times in row is progressing to play ‘the Barcelona way’. The Catalan’s blueprint has found its way into every training ground from Arsenal to Swansea. They now must prove worthy of playing football ‘how it should be played’.

Yet somehow an ageing Chelsea team, with an intern manager, languishing 6th in their inferior domestic league, have progressed to this years final in Barcelona’s absence. Down to ten men and without either of their starting centre halves, at the home of invincibility, they made the worlds finest team look tired, predictable and completely devoid of the imagination that had made them everyone’s second team.

Chelsea’s progression means the Premiership have now provided eight finalists in the previous eight years. Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have all competed in at least one of European football’s show case event. Bayern Munich’s triumph over Real Madrid means Spain have provided three in that same time, all of which, have been Barcelona. Not since the all Spanish final of Real Madrid v Valencia in 2002 has La Liga offered another finalist other than their current champions. Yet for the protagonists, the chasm between leagues has opened further with every season.

There was also great enthusiasm for Manchester United’s exit from the Europa League. Emphatically beaten by La Liga’s 6th placed side Athletic Bilbao. So comprehensive a defeat this was, that it perfectly illustrated the gap between the La Liga’s also rans and the Premier League champions. It was a glorious night for Bilbao as they moved one step closer to their greatest achievement in decades. An achievement, that while positioned worryingly off the pace for a champions league spot, accumulated their priorities into one basket. Title chasing Manchester United, although fielding a strong side, one way or other have to be more generously spread over their domestic duties. When the world’s biggest club travelled to the North of Spain, it certainly meant more to one red and white club than the other.

Confirmation all non EPL believers needed that superiority was ensured. Contenders for La Liga’s second tier within a league, have disposed of England’s champions. Somewhere over these two legs, Manchester United reaching three of the last four European cup finals seems to have gotten conveniently swept under the carpet as current became paramount.People will counter the dual dominance argument by drawing similarities in their English counterpart. Yes Real Madrid or Barcelona win it every year, but a look at the May standings give the impression the EPL has been equally dominated by Man. United and Chelsea for some time now. Hard to contest.

The main difference however is that reality of the run in shows it still was possible for any one of three or four teams to finish on top until at least March. In August predictions will be made, some reserved and realistic, some a wild stretch of imagination. But predictions that will scope across at least six teams for crowning glory in the end. Anyone predicting outside the big two in Spain had clearly discovered Sam Miguel is indeed a great mixer for Corn Flakes. The reasons the EPL will have more twists and turns than a weekend at the Bahrain F1 is because no team will lie down for another. Fans look at their next games and desperately calculate their proposed points total knowing that Stoke (A) could turn a whole season into a complete nightmare. Fans in La Liga look at their next six games and try to calculate if either Messi or Ronaldo can finally have a more goals than touches stat by the other end of the 6. The race equating to more of an Indy 500 track than F1.

UEFA have invited teams that aren’t champions in to mainland Europe for the Champions League now for so long now, the old format seems confined to video tape. In this format, Europe’s ever expanding top table has mixed resident chairs with the surplus fold ups from the garden shed. In this time, teams from the EPL have beaten Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter and AC Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Roma, Valencia, Napoli and every force you can imagine. These results gather no accumulative relevance for the strength of the league. Usually credited to their financial strength to any ability, the EPL being a technique vacuum by all accounts. But when a result does go against the league, even if those results were part of a club’s maiden voyage in the Champions League, in the case of Manchester City (another new team to represent at the table), it is once again proof of the divide.

The debate could rage all day, all season or forever but why? Why do some need to disassociate themselves from a league to one further afield? I can only request a spectrum of appreciation, across both. One result or one campaign wont prove anything as fact, not domestically or on the continent.

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