How English football rules Europe – with a little help from foreigners

For the first time four teams from the same country will contest two major European finals. How has England done it?

As Eden Hazard walked up to take his penalty for Chelsea against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday night he had not only his club’s fate in his hands but the chance to create history.

If he scored, Chelsea would reach the Europa League final and ensure that all four finalists in the two major European competitions came from the same nation, a feat never done before.

Hazard scored, of course he did, to set up a final between Chelsea and Arsenal in Baku, following on from the extraordinary scenes earlier in the week when Liverpool and Tottenham completed remarkable comebacks against Barcelona and Ajax to book their places in the Champions League final in Madrid on 1 June.

For some, in these Brexit times, this was seen as a great triumph for England and an outcome that had given “Johnny Foreigner a bloody nose”, but look at the make-up of the four teams and their managers and it is clear that the results have come because the Premier League has mixed the best players, managers and playing styles from home and abroad.

The four managers are a case in point. Jürgen Klopp (Liverpool) is German, Mauricio Pochettino (Spurs) comes from Argentina, Maurizio Sarri (Chelsea) was born in Naples and Unai Emery (Arsenal) hails from Spain.

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As for their squads, all are a wonderful mix of players from Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. Arsenal have used players of 15 different nationalities in Europe this season, Tottenham 14 and Liverpool and Chelsea 12.

Arsenal have deployed nine English players in the Europa League this season, the most of the four teams (although some of those players do not play regularly in the league), while seven Englishmen have represented Tottenham in Europe. Liverpool have played six Englishmen and Chelsea four.

There are several reasons why the English sides have done so well in Europe this season, money being the most important. Premier League clubs earn vast amounts from their TV deals and in Europe only Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain, Bayern Munich and Juventus can really compete on that level.

However, this season it seems as if the English clubs have found the perfect mix of the traditional strengths of English (British) football – being physical and working as a collective – and the passing game that has traditionally been played in mainland Europe.

Barcelona have long been praised for their tiki-taka passing game but they were blown away by Liverpool’s aggressiveness on Tuesday night at Anfield and never recovered.

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Klopp has played a major role in this by taking all that is good with English football and making it more European, moulding it into a formula that works on the biggest stage of all. Pochettino has done the same at Spurs. And part of the reason they have been so successful is that they have integrated completely in their new environs. Both managers have fallen in love with their clubs and, perhaps more importantly, the communities around them.

Football works in cycles and the current success story will not last but while it is happening it is a good example of what happens when talented people from different backgrounds come together to work hard towards one goal.