IT is time for English clubs to step up to the mark when the Champions League kicks off this week.
The Premier League is respected worldwide for the entertainment it brings to our TV screens and stadiums.
But it is in Europe where legends are really born.
You only need to look at the reaction of players when they lift that European Cup to know what it means. I wish I had done it.
I certainly enjoyed the step up when I did compete in club football’s premier competition with both Blackburn and Newcastle. And believe me, it is a step up.
The game slows down but you need to think quicker. It is more of a conundrum than the pace and power of the Premier League presented.
Sir Alex Ferguson recognised that himself after winning it for the first time.
Manchester United did that almost on a wing and a prayer in that incredible Treble-winning season of 1999.
But after that, he recognised that the thrill-a-minute football his team was producing was not sustainable in Europe.
As he did throughout his managerial career, he adapted and you could watch his side play, for example, Aston Villa at home one day and Roma away the next and see two completely different styles. Of course, this is not easy to do.
But this is why all our top clubs have taken on the services of the world’s best coaches.
Believe me, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp are not incumbents in the hottest seats in English football just to win the League Cup.
Nor are they there just to make a title challenge.
The huge investment going into those clubs is to make an impact on the biggest stage and there are none bigger in club football than the Champions League.
Some fans do not take to it and are happy to retreat to the refuge of domestic football believing that provides the barometer for where they are at. Not so.
Sir Matt Busby first led Manchester United into Europe seemingly against FA approval so his team could be challenged against the best football had to offer. That is what we should all want.
Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan similarly recognised that as Liverpool dominated in Europe in the 1970s and 80s.
Brian Clough did not want Nottingham Forest to be remembered just for winning the league. So those of us old enough recall Trevor Francis’ far-post header and John Robertson’s one-two and finish in the Bernabeu.
Likewise with Sir Alex in winning twice and reaching two more finals. He was always striving to put his club at the very top of the biggest pile. Those brilliant sides stepped up to the mark.
Great players such as Robertson, Kevin Keegan, Graeme Souness, Ryan Giggs etc grasped the chance and stamped their imprint on football.
Chelsea latterly recognised the massive importance of European football and finally landed the big one on that incredible night in Munich.
Watch again the reaction of those players when Didier Drogba converted the winning penalty in the shootout and tell me the bread and butter of the Premier League is what is all important.
Important, yes, very, but the Champions League is another level and it is time our players recognised that.
The coaches certainly do, or they should.
I am still bemused as to why Mauricio Pochettino sacrificed Spurs’ chances by playing an under-strength team in the group stage in Monaco last season.
They had a league game against Chelsea the following weekend and he was clearly prioritising that. They went out of the Champions League and lost to Chelsea in any case.
Mourinho and Guardiola know what it is to rule in Europe and I am expecting big things from them this season. Certainly the huge investment in both clubs demands it.
City were a big let down last season, going out to Monaco in the first knockout stage having reached the semi-finals the year before.
Manchester United have fallen dramatically from the perch they were on when they were regularly getting into the latter stages of the competition.
Yes, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich are currently a level above at the moment.
That does not mean we cannot challenge and join them in the latter stages and get past them in a two-legged tie.
I look at the riches in the squads of the Manchester clubs and the strength in the first teams of Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool and find no reasons why that should not be the case.
Players such as Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford need to recognise that THIS is the competition when you really get recognised, when you really need to step up.
And it’s where the legends are born.
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