Manchester City
Huddersfield Town
7:45 PM UTC
Game Details
Sporting Gijón
Game Details
Real Madrid
Las Palmas
8:30 PM UTC
Game Details
Bayern Munich
Schalke 04
7:45 PM UTC
Game Details
Hamburg SV
Borussia Monchengladbach
Game Details
AS Roma
7:45 PM UTC
Leg 1
Game Details

Arsenal plagued by stubbornness


Boro must capitalise at Stoke


Crisis? What crisis?

"Until now, English football was only going through an identity crisis," I said, shamelessly stealing a line from Michael Cox. "Now it also has a results crisis."

I looked up, probably wearing a smug expression, happy that after close to two hours of incoherent ramblings and a good deal of clueless stammering I'd finally delivered what is known in the biz as a soundbite.

Ruud Gullit stared back somewhat expectantly. Ottmar Hitzfeld smiled a benevolent smile but said nothing, as if waiting for more. The Sky Germany presenter raised an eyebrow, waiting for the punchline. I didn't have one.

And so, into the embarrassing silence, I hastily added: "Well, and now let's see if it will also have a financial crisis." Gullit grinned, Hitzfeld smiled some more and the presenter said: "Hear, hear. The key word is Financial Fairplay." And then we went off on another tangent, never touched upon the state of the game in England again and I never got to add my "but".

Well, that's television for you. There's never time for anything and the name of the game is improvisation. For example, the reason I was on Sky Germany's Champions League show as a pundit in the first place was my work for UEFA's "Champions" magazine and these ESPN columns, as I was supposed to say a thing or two about the United versus Real tie and how German football is perceived abroad.

But somehow this premise went overboard and instead my role became that of a professional journalist who also happens to be a born and raised Dortmund football fan, who has had a season-ticket since 1982 and now watches his club play a big game from a distance. That was okay by me, but it meant that - on a night which made it likely we'll have three German teams in the quarter-finals of the Champions League but, for the first time since 1996, not a single one from England - we never got round to talking about this Decline of the Premier League versus Rise of the Bundesliga thing.

Because, whether you've noticed it or not, this has been a pet subject over the last ten to fifteen months within the fraternity of people who cover the game in either of the two countries. Last November, for instance, the biggest English football magazine got in touch with me to ask if I'd be up for a big Dortmund piece. It was time, they said, to finally put a German team on the cover, because many people were disillusioned with the Premier League and now enviously looking at the Bundesliga, considering it the new role model.

Only three days after this article finally saw the light of day, Saj Chowdhury published a piece on the BBC website that asked "Could the Premier League learn from the Germans?" and kicked off with this sobering line, directed at English football: "The party is over, it's time to grow up." And less than two weeks after that, Michael Cox said "England should look to Germany for inspiration, coaches" on ESPN FC. (This piece contained the line from which I nicked the first half: "English football is going through an identity crisis, and the raw quality of the top sides has fallen.")

Heck, even the most influential of style gurus (Pep Guardiola) - both sartorially and in footballing terms - decided the Bundesliga is now the place to be and agreed to become the next Bayern Munich manager.

Naturally, I wasn't too unhappy about this development. People kept calling, asking me to explain all kinds of things about the German game, from how clubs can do so well even though they are technically run by their fans, to why the teams are competitive even though the average ticket price in Germany is only £20. I was even approached to write about the Bundesliga for an Indian website.

But then my wife picked up her novel last week and I channel hopped, looking for something I could watch on television with the sound turned off. (See "Giving football a voice", March 2). I found the West Ham versus Spurs game and figured this would make for nice, unobtrusive background entertainment while I checked my mails, spent some time on Facebook, wrote a brief piece and lost a chess game against my computer.

Almost none of this happened. I did check the mails, but I never made it to Facebook, let alone pen a piece or move my king's pawn. At one point, I said to my wife: "Gosh, this is a cracking game!" But mostly I was watching in silent fascination, mesmerised by the pace of the action, the scenery, the bubbles, the drama of it all, Joe Cole's over-the-top goal celebration and the general brilliance of Gareth Bale.

It made me wonder what words like "decline" and "rise" really mean in a footballing context for someone who is just a fan of the game. Whether the Premier League had a dozen teams in the Champions League or none at all surely made no difference whatsoever to the ecstatic West Ham fans behind the goal who cheered one superb Jussi Jaaskelainen save after another.

And whether the game was being bought up by American businessmen or Taoist nuns surely made no difference at all to the Spurs supporters who went nuts as their team scored a stunning last-minute winner. In fact, I strongly suspect some of them wouldn't even mind Spurs being run by the Yakuza as long as there were games like this one.

I know there are some English fans who have indeed turned their back on the domestic game and travel to Germany on weekends to watch the Bundesliga. But that is clearly a very small and very radical minority. For the majority of fans - in England and elsewhere - your club is your club and will remain your club, whether or not there are struggles with identity, results or finances.

I don't quote Supertramp very often, but on that Monday evening I said to myself: 'Crisis? What crisis?'


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