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THE DECLINE AND FALL OF ENGLISH FOOTBALL; INQUEST ON CHELSEA'S EURO EXIT; The Prem is rich and getting richer, but the quality of football poor and getting poorer and we're falling behind in Europe.

Byline: JOHN CROSS Chief Football Writer

AMID the controversy and bitterness of Chelsea's Champions League exit, there was something to be far more concerned about.

The alarming decline of English clubs in Europe is as big a problem for the Premier League as the worrying talent drain towards Spain and Germany.

Barring a miracle from Arsenal or Manchester City, England will not have a single representative in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

That shows how far English football has fallen in the past six years - and it could get even worse.

Continental Europe's emerging stars now go to Spain rather than England, the Bundesliga is close to overtaking the Premier League for club success in Europe and for all their TV riches, the biggest teams in this country are missing out on the true superstar signings.

Since Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United for Real Madrid in 2009, the Premier League has not been able to boast of having the best player in the world.

Eleven years ago, Wayne Rooney moved to Manchester United from Everton. These days, similar budding British talent would probably move abroad.

To prove the point, Gareth Bale went from Tottenham to Real Madrid for a world record PS85million two years ago when, back in English football's golden era, United or Chelsea would have got him. Bale chose Spain as he knew Real was a better bet to land domestic football's biggest prize. Sure enough, he won the Champions League in his first season.

Not so long ago the fashion was for young players and those entering their prime to come to England. Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Ronaldo were in that bracket. Young, hugely talented players with something to prove.

The trend now is for a second tier of still expensive players. Radamel Falcao for example.

The Colombian could not get a move from Monaco to Real Madrid so took the PS265,000 a week on offer at Old Trafford.

Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil, both allowed to leave the Bernabeu, moved to England for huge fees. Di Maria was a star in the Argentina team that reached the semi-finals in Brazil, Ozil a World Cup-winner with Germany. United and Arsenal paid club records of PS59.7m and PS42.5m respectively, yet neither player has proved inspirational.

The statistics make alarming reading. In the six seasons from 2003-04 to 2008-09, the Premier League dominated European football. English clubs appeared in semi-finals 13 times and finals six times - including one which was g an all-English affair. They were twice winners and in three consecutive campaigns provided three of the four semi-finalists.

In the past six years - including this season - English clubs have appeared in three semi-finals, reached a final twice and lifted the trophy just once. So this season is no one-off.

It is nearing crisis point for English football. While there is no immediate danger of the Premier League having its Champions League places reduced from four to three, that will be the case if the current decline continues.

Unless the trend is reversed, in two years' time Italy could overtake the Premier League in FIFA calculations used to allocate places in European competitions - based on the success of clubs from each country across five seasons - and could have their Champions League quota increased from three to four at England's expense.

England are second to Spain in the rankings, although Germany look certain to overtake them by the end of the season.

After Chelsea's exit to Paris Saint-Germain, Sky pundit Jamie Carragher claimed English football was "miles behind". My view is the Premier League is the most watchable, most competitive and most exciting league in the world.

Jose Mourinho is spot on when he says Spanish, German and French clubs have it easier because their domestic leagues are less competitive.

Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool are pushed to the limit in league games. Chelsea's rather listless performance against PSG seemed to underline that.

The new Premier League TV deal will deliver PS5.1billion. But will it bring back the good times or just encourage the mercenaries? i To be successful in Europe again, English football must attract hungry players who want to prove they are the very best.

The struggle of English clubs in Europe over the past six seasons could soon see us lose one of our four Champions League spots. Italy are now looking to join Spain and Germany above us in the rankings..


BLUE IN THE FACE Chelsea skipper John Terry and his dejected team-mates troop off after losing to PSG
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Mar 13, 2015
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