The UEFA Champions League has long been Europe’s most prestigious club competition, and while the English Premier League (EPL) is widely considered to be the most competitive league in the world, its teams have struggled recently in this tournament. Since Chelsea lifted the trophy in 2012, the number of English teams in the quarterfinals of the tournament has been zero, two, zero, one, one and two, while Spanish and German teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich dominate the latter stages of the competition. But the times may be changing. This year, four of the last eight teams are from the sport’s founding country, England.
The Spanish league is known for its quick, technical, passing play, the Italian league for its sturdy defenses and voracious counterattacks and the German league for its machine-like, disciplined style. The EPL is often considered to be a more physical, aggressive game that’s great for marketing purposes — especially for a growing English-speaking American market — but can’t compete at the highest level. So why the resurgence of English soccer on the European scene?
Much of the cause of this renaissance can be traced back to 2012 when the EPL inked a gargantuan $3 billion TV broadcast deal with Sky Sports and BT Sport that, according to The Guardian, gave the league a 71 percent income boost. Teams used these riches to recruit the best playing and coaching talent from around the world. The results have been apparent: Liverpool’s magical run to the final last season was the first time since 2012 that an English side had a serious chance to lift the trophy. This season, with four teams in the last eight, we could easily have an all-English final, the first since 2008.
It’s no coincidence that the English club teams’ form in Europe has coincided with the incredible run of its national team to the semifinals of the World Cup in Russia last summer. Chants of “It’s coming home!” rang through the nation as the team’s heroics captured the hearts of fans. But this is not a new trend. Over the past few years, as teams from Spain and Germany have dominated the scene on the club side, their national teams have been dominant as well: Spain won the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship, while Germany won the 2014 World Cup, coinciding with Barcelona and Bayern Munich’s runs in the Champions League, respectively.
The English national team’s success owed much to the same EPL broadcast deal. Like many European leagues, the EPL also has restrictions on the numbers of foreign players on each team. While clubs filled their rosters with senior, experienced international players, they also spent a lot of money on their academies and youth teams to identify and train talented young English players. Playing with the new, raised level of talent had a demonstrable positive impact on the development of these young players.
Now, seven years on from that TV deal, the amount of young talent in England is astounding. Players like 19-year-old Jadon Sancho and 18-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi have already found their way into the national team setup, and the Three Lions have a promising young core who could achieve major success in years to come.