The lack of a Premier League presence in Friday's draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League has prompted one of those periodic spasms of anxiety concerning the quality of the football being played by England's leading teams and its suitability for future success in the world's leading club tournament.
After the waters closed over the last English ambitions in this season's competition, Arsenal staging a brave but ultimately vain recovery against Bayern Munich, their manager, Arsène Wenger, declared that the collective failure of all four Premier League sides to reach the last eight represented a wake-up call for the domestic game.
Really? Seeing that English clubs have appeared in all but one of the last eight Champions League finals, winning three of them, it is surely less a matter of waking up than remaining alive to a changing situation which may well make it more difficult for Premier League teams to progress.
The financial restrictions through which Uefa hopes to dissuade mega-rich owners from plunging their playthings into enormous debt by paying ever-higher amounts to corner the market in the best players will have some effect, although this season the biggest spenders, Manchester City and Chelsea, disappeared without trace before the knockout stage.
Watching Barcelona produce another peerless performance on Tuesday as they brushed aside Milan's 2-0 lead from the first leg to win 4-0 back at the Camp Nou, it was hard to believe that only last May Barça had been beaten in the semi-finals by a Chelsea team reduced to 10 men in the second leg following the dismissal of John Terry.
Barcelona's recent dip in form has been fleeting. Tuesday's performance was as brilliant as their display in Milan had been banal.
Comparing it to the recent efforts of England's representatives in the Champions League it is tempting to quote the judgment of one scribe who wrote that the Spanish team's football "has never been bettered in Britain, if indeed it has ever been equalled. The lesson is there. Ours is the biggest, as well as the oldest, soccer organisationin the world and insularity has led it to slip far behind world developmentin tactics".
A bit harsh.
Actually, this was the opinion of Ivan Sharpe in 1960 after seeing Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in the European Cup final in Glasgow, playing football which at the time belonged to another galaxy rather than another world and doing so, moreover, on a bumpy pitch at Hampden that a few weeks earlier had seen the players of Scotland and England strugglingfor control.
Eintracht were no mugs. In the semi-finals they had routed Rangers 12-4 on aggregate. The English champions, Wolverhampton Wanderers, had lost 9-2 to Barcelona over two legs in the quarter-finals.
The modern game in England is hardly lagging behind the rest of Europe in general, as results in the Europa League continue to show. Things have improved since 1995-96, the last season in which an English team failed to reach the quarters, when Blackburn Rovers went into the Champions League with their manager, Ray Harford, declaring that they would play their natural game and not worry too much about patience and keeping possession. Unfortunately, nobody worried too much about Blackburn either.
This season, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, as well as Barcelona and Real Madrid, have hinted at a gap between the top of the Premier League and their contemporaries.
This has reinforced the argument that the intensely competitive nature of the game in England makes it all the harder for teams to concentrate on Europe, especially at this time of the season when issues of success and failure become ever more crucial byEither way it was difficult to equate an Arsenal performance in Munich, which while undoubtedly heroic was still marred by the number of times Wenger's players needlessly and untypically gave the ball away, withthe marvels of Barcelona's football the night before.
In the Champions League some lessons require constant revision.