Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughThe 'Big Four' are big no more - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough The 'Big Four' are big no more - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

The ‘Big Four’ are big no more

Just a short three years ago, English football was the dominant force in Europe.  Our boys surged past the continent’s great and good with a brand of football that fused the glorious Britishness of muscularity with European finesse, dismantling teams from Spain, Italy and Germany with unprecedented ease.  During the 2007/08 season and the few seasons preceding it Arsenal had beaten Real Madrid and Juventus, Liverpool had toppled AC Milan, Chelsea had destroyed Bayern Munich and Manchester United ousted a Barcelona team equipped with the devastating talents of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi.

Three of the Champions League semi finalists were English, with Arsenal’s progression only halted by the rampaging Ronaldo of Manchester United fame.  Italian and Spanish teams both struggled to cope with the forceful exuberance of our country’s best, and it was a similar story in the Premier League.  In the 2007/08 season the untouchable quartet of Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United lost only 15 games between them, with their nearest challengers Everton finishing a clear eleven points behind fourth-placed Liverpool.

At the beginning of this decade however, these teams relinquished their resounding grip on domestic and European football.  Already, these four teams have been beaten on 26 occasions this season, with Tottenham and Man City breaking the monopoly these giants previously enjoyed.  In Europe, Barcelona and Real Madrid are now recognised as the greatest, while Bayern Munich and Inter Milan both proved themselves superior to their British counterparts in last season’s European Cup. 

The descent into mediocrity has been drastic.  While England’s best are still competitive at a European and domestic level, in just three seasons they have fallen from clear favourites to outside hopes in the betting for the Champions League, while the likes of Stoke and Bolton are finding more and more joy against the land’s finest footballers.  What has happened?

Nothing, really.  That’s the problem.  Our teams have stood still, relying on player’s former glories to justify their inclusion despite month after month of poor form.  None of our supposed bigger clubs have really freshened their squads up sufficiently to inject a new energy into their teams, with their current player’s familiarity with their surroundings unfortunately bringing contempt. 

At Manchester United, the crippling debt imposed by the Glazer’s has strangled Fergie’s usually savvy transfer brain.  Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo are yet to be replaced, with Dimitar Berbatov nothing more than a goal-getting bully only able to produce against the small and the weak.  Owen Hargreaves remains sidelined, Michael Carrick is going backwards, Paul Scholes is getting older and the cornerstones of their once impenetrable defence, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, are forever struggling against injury.  There has been no evolution, no emerging talent to reinvigorate the Old Trafford faithful, with the remaining stars of 2008 still the main attractions at the Theatre of Dreams.

It’s a similar story at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates stadium.  These teams’ best players are the same as they were three seasons previous, with the recent resurgence of Liverpool and Chelsea surely down to their investment in the January transfer window.  In football, a squad needs to be consistently freshened, added to and tweaked, regardless of the near-perfect talent you may already have at your disposal.  Barcelona have maintained excellence for three seasons now, primarily because of the buying and selling policy Pep Guardiola has had.  Eto’o, Ibrahimovic and Villa have all been tried as the focal point of their attack, with Yaya Toure sacrificed this summer in order to bring Javier Mascherano to the Camp Nou.  You can be damn sure they’ll be yet more reshuffling this summer, with Guardiola hoping to stop the dreaded staleness descending as it has done on Britain’s big four.

While our teams’ dominance was never going to last forever, the swiftness with which they have been overtaken is a stark reminder of the fast-changing pace of football at the top level.  The Big Four got comfortable on their perch, only to be rapidly dethroned by footballer’s who had become better, faster and hungrier.  To re-establish this dominance, some of football’s finest minds will have to go back to the drawing board and rejuvenate some talented but aging squads.  Unfortunately for them, it’s a lot harder getting to the top than it is staying there.


Jon Vale

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