For the last few years the prospect of an all-Premiership Champions League final has been hanging over European football like a wet towel. Many on the continent hoped they wouldn't live to see the day, while others back on the Isles licked their chops and broke in their wallets in anticipation of the massive windfall potentially generated from the 90 minute ad for the English 'brand.' But no one could claim England's dominance in Europe came as a surprise.
Indeed, as the number of Big Four English clubs proceeding to the semi-finals increases yearly, UEFA's bloated brain-child seems like all things today to be going retro. However, some major differences exist between 2005-2008 and 1977-1984. Whereas in the old days winning the European Cup involved good tactics, strong individual players, leadership, a lot of luck, as well as a lopsided turn of form between the different domestic leagues (think Italy's match-fixture problems leading up to the 1982 World Cup for example), today the Champions League is an endurance test requiring either expensive depth on the bench or an alchemist's ability to balance the needs of domestic league days and European nights with often the one being sacrificed for the other (Liverpool 2005, AC Milan 2007).
England has been fastest to recognize the new set-up in Europe and therefore in recent years has reaped the most success. For all of Jorge Valdano's complaining about shit on a stick when Chelsea came to Anfield last year, dire defensive-minded ball-hoofing is exactly what it takes to win the fattest tournament (in all senses of the word) in all of modern sport.
Last night's pairing of Manchester United and Barcelona provided the perfect example; Barca artfully passed the ball with an ease that Capello should use as a model for England, but could not penetrate the red and white bedposts waiting in the box. United on the other hand took their one chance through Scholes half-volley from thirty yards, but across the two legs defensive organization and careful deployment won the day. Some key substitutions and the luxury of maintaining composure with both Rooney and Vidic out for the second leg came courtesy of the sort of depth that most clubs in Europe do not have the money to provide.
Perhaps the greatest indicator of the importance of money in the Champions League is the fact that the country providing both clubs in the European Cup final will not be represented in the European Championship. This absurd outcome is as natural for the neoliberals on Fleet street as it is outrageous to those who covet international football as the summit of the game; indeed, when EU rulings put the movement of football players between nations on the same level as flat-screen televisions, DVDs, subsidized food and illicit drugs, in the parlance of the technocrats, the domestic 'product' has to learn to adjust or fade away. England has chosen its path, Capello's appointment notwithstanding.
English supporters are reportedly upset they must go to Moscow on May 21st to watch what is essentially a domestic fixture; what they should realize is Moscow is but a preview for Scudamore's 39th game. English top four clubs merely have their home offices in England; they are now products of a flat world to be bought and traded like any other corporatized commodity. While UEFA huffs and puffs to the public about the degradation of the game at the hands of the bankers, in true Straussian fashion they are busy whispering reassurances in the ears of the King; whether it be Murdoch, Abramovich, Hicks or Gillett. England's dominance in Europe is really the free market's dominance in the West -- and nations have nothing to do with it.