Chumpions of Europe….

For the second successive season the Champions representing the English Premier League – the self-styled and much-bragged “World’s Greatest, Highest Quality & Most Competitive” domestic football competition – have found themselves humiliated on the European Champions League stage, falling embarrassingly at the very first hurdle that is the ECL Group Stage.

Last season saw an arrogant and complacent Man Utd fail to emerge from their customary hand-picked group; their only victories coming against group minnows Otelul Galati as they amassed a measly total of just 3pts from their four encounters with Benfica and FC Basel. Their mega-bucks ‘noisy neighbours’ Man City also fell at the first stage of their debut ECL campaign, although they did have to contend with a group containing eventual Finalists FC Bayern, a resurgent Napoli and the wily Spaniards Villareal.

But this season Man City managed to achieve what many thought an impossible task, namely surpassing their previous levels of ineptness in Europe’s premier club competition?! Despite their lofty status as newly-crowned EPL Champions, City’s anonymous European record compromised their all-important co-efficient and saw them somewhat unfortunately drawn alongside Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax in the so-called ‘Group of Champions’….being that all four clubs were champions of their respective domestic leagues. No-one could deny that City had been dealt a brutal hand by the Gods, but to collect an appalling total of just 3pts from their six fixtures without a solitary victory is simply unacceptable for a club boasting City’s ambitions and, more importantly, their financial muscle!

Some City sympathisers and EPL apologies have highlighted the struggles of Sir Alex Ferguson and Man Utd during their early forays into the ECL, and Sir Alex has regularly admitted his frustration and disappointment that Man Utd have won just two European Cups during his quarter of a century stewardship. It is an undeniably poor return for Man Utd’s status as a European powerhouse, their resources and the fact that a relaxing of the qualification rules has seen them regularly participate in the competition. Many observers would perhaps mischievously suggest that of Utd’s four appearances in the ECL Final they have probably only deservedly won the trophy on one occasion, and I’m quite sure that Chelsea fans would argue that they had the better of that encounter in Moscow. FC Bayern’s nightmares will still be dominated by haunting images of Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, having comprehensively outplayed Sir Alex’s team in 1999 while nobody would deny the gulf in class during their two maulings at the hands of FC Barcelona.

Yes, Man Utd took a little while to acclimatise to the dizzy heights of European competition, but for me the argument of a club having to gradually feel their way into the ECL is invalid when it comes to Man City. I’m not going to claim Man Utd spent no money at all in establishing themselves as an EPL force and a fairly regular participant in the latter rounds of the ECL, but the sheer speed and weight of investment that has been lavished on Man City makes Chelsea’s record a much more relevant comparison in my opinion.

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