Why are we so good?

We could be heading for another European all-English final, writes Hunter Davies

This is the season the cuckoo


And so do I;

When Man United, Chelsea, Ars ’n’

Pool betumble the Euro heights,

And so do I.

I learned that poem at school, but never knew it was by Thomas Hardy. Very perspicacious.

And it really is exciting, fair cheers me up in these dreary times, our clubs doing so well in Europe. By next week, our four could well be in the next round, heading for another all-English final. Oh why are we so gude, as they’d shout in Scotland, even when they weren’t.

’Cos England’s Prem is the best league in the world, and this will prove it once again, whether it happens or not, ’cos we are the best league in the world, all together, one more time. Actually I don’t quite believe that, not when Barcelona are playing so brilliantly.

The rest of Europe are not very good this season, that could be one factor – except hold on, I just said Barca were brilliant and Bayern Munich are on a good run.

So let’s consider a third reason: our managers and senior players are now so experienced, they’ve been there, know how to crack it, have evolved as European teams. In fact, Arsenal and Liverpool are so bloody smart and clever in Europe that they seem to have forgotten how to play well in England, or they can’t be arsed, can’t raise their game for boring all-domestic stuff, to lower themselves to the primitive level of the rest of our league. (If Villa do manage Europe next season, which will certainly be an overachievement, they won’t survive, as they’re not yet a Euro team.)

Fourth, none of them is in fact an English team, full of bleedin’ foreigners, the lot of them. In that first leg, Arsenal as usual didn’t have one Englisher, and the other four could only manage between two and four in their starting

line-up. Of course, none of the four managers is English, either. So much for the English Prem.

But ah, look carefully at our main Euro rivals, from Spain and Italy. You’ll see much the same thing happening – the number of native players is in the minority in their top teams. They’re all from South America, rest of Europe, Africa.

But one thing is striking, when you look carefully at the leading Spanish teams – note how many are rejects from the Prem. This surely is a true sign of our strength, that we can afford to let go so many excellent players.

OK, “rejects” is not the word to use for Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy, but when Wenger and Fergie let them go to Barça and Real Madrid, there was a feeling they were considered expendable, allowed to leave, perhaps their best days over.

In the old days, when Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton were considered to be getting towards the end, they made the rather humiliating drop into lower clubs in lower leagues (to Fulham and Preston). Now they can still go on to even greater glory. Same with managers. Martin Jol and Juande Ramos, given the heave at Spurs, went on to get even better jobs in more successful clubs in Europe.

There’s a whole load of players, now doing well in Europe, such as Robben and Guðjohnsen from Chelsea, Forlán and Heinze from Man United, Silvinho from Arsenal, who must certainly have felt like rejects when they left our shores – but look at them now, thriving in Spain’s top teams. Beckham definitely got the push, no question, but it remains to be seen if he’ll stay, or thrive in Italy.

The good thing about all this is that if our top four should get stuffed next week, we’ll still have something to cheer – Our Ex-Lads. l

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Planet Overload