The BPL is in decline
In the summer of 2004, Gerard Houllier ended his excuse-filled reign as Liverpool manager. Down in London, as had been expected throughout the season, Claudio Ranieri's time at Chelsea came to an end.
In the days before the football season actually ended, Valencia defeated Marseille to win the then Uefa Cup, while in the Champions League final, somehow, Monaco and Porto met in the final.
Porto, who had won the Uefa Cup the previous season, defeated the side of Principality comfortably. So it was that Rafa Benitez, with Valencia and Jose Mourinho then at Porto, were the two brightest young managers in the European game, as the continent prepared for the European Championships in Portugal.
With Chelsea and Liverpool looking for new managers, it was clear that Mourinho and Benitez were going to the Premier League but their destinations were the subjects of media frenzy. In the end Rafa went to Liverpool and Jose to Chelsea. The rest is history.
At that period, the English game was at an all-time high and it showed in how many times clubs from the premier league reached semifinals and finals of the Champions League. Heck, even Middlesborough and Fulham managed to reach the Europa League final even if they did not win.
The quality of football or perhaps the pace at which teams of the Premier League played seemed a bit too much for the teams in the continent to handle. From 2005 to 2012 the Champions League final had an English team except once, in 2010.
During that period the clubs had fantastic individuals apart from the managers: Henry, Fabregas, Pires and Lehmann were at Arsenal; Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Mascherano and Fernando Torres were at Anfield. United could call on the special talents of Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Van der Sar; Chelsea had the powerful duo of Drogba and Essien and the promptings and protection of Makalele and Terry, while Robben and Duff drove full-backs into their shells. Frank Lampard, the goal scoring machine from midfield, was peaking nicely. The PL was not all hype. It had a lot of substance.
However, things have changed. Like most things in life the cycle seems to have ended with Chelsea's fortuitous triumph in Munich last summer - just as Liverpool's equally lucky win over Milan in Istanbul seven years earlier jump-started it all. The players named above are now on the wrong side of their abilities while Ronaldo, Alonso and Mascherano are in La Liga. Watching Tevez these days at Man City he does not seem to be that same player who, along with Ronaldo, was just incredible to play against.
Speaking of City, they host the Manchester derby this weekend three points behind their visitors, having not lost in the league but having been battered, bruised and dumped out of the Champions League failing to win a match!
Manchester United are top but that is an indictment on the league's quality as the team is poorly coached and unorganised. Any seasoned observer or student of the sport must be scratching his or her head wondering how this is so from a Sir Alex Ferguson team.
On paper and with all the hype it will generate, this Manchester derby should be a cracking game. However, I'll be surprised if it is even close. In terms of personnel Man City really should walk the match. Mancini, their manager, was thrown a major lifeline as far as his job was concerned when United somehow managed to throw away an eight-point lead at Easter.
It is a mystery how he manages to make his expensive collection of players so lacking in invention and improvised play. It says a lot for a side when the team's fortune hang on the huge frames of Yaya Toure and his lung-bursting runs and the slighter frame of David Silva. Edin Dzeko seems only great as a substitute while the hugely talented Balotelli is barely trusted. The club's limitations were rightly exposed in Europe. The buck stops at the manager's table.
Chelsea have been dumped out of the Champions League at the first hurdle, becoming the first holders to face such ignominy. Truth be told, Chelsea have been in decline since the 2010 season when, somehow, the double that season covered the cracks.
Winning the Champions League and FA Cup double was the final act of some players in defiance of time, especially Didier Drogba. It has been ignored that in the league they finished over 20 points behind the Manchester clubs, so expecting them to claw back those points this season, even with a new style and new players, was asking way too much for whoever their manager was going to be. Watching them labour in their group must have been painful for their fans to endure. A patient rebuilding process starts now - two years overdue.
Arsenal fans, it seems, have finally had enough after Swansea came to the Emirates last weekend and swanned around the stadium, making away with the points and a comfortable two-goal victory. After a good start Wenger's team are in tenth. Yep, tenth position after 15 games and with their lowest points tally at this point since the Frenchman arrived from Japan. Simply put, Arsenal this season don't worry teams anymore. Nor do any of the top teams when one thinks about it really.
So, at the final whistle the home fans booed at their players. They certainly hope it might make a difference. I just cannot see past the manager in the current state of affairs at Arsenal. Arsene Wenger has so much power at the club that nothing can go on there without his approval, at least on the playing side, so the buck stops with him. The time is probably right for him to go.
The Premier League needs Tottenham and Liverpool and Everton to up the ante and challenge for the title. The competition needs to be tougher so that United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal can raise their game.
A new cycle has started. There are only a few teams left in Europe who would fear drawing United or Arsenal in the knock-out stages. That's the way football - and indeed life - goes.