Trio defend EPL pedigree

Trio defend EPL pedigree
(From left) Former EPL players Graham Stuart, Mamady Sidibe and Ian Wright testing their respective capteh skills during yesterday’s media launch of the Barclays Asia Trophy Singapore 2015 at the Marina Bay floating platform.

This year's elite European competitions saw no English clubs in the final eight. While some see that as a sign of decline in the English Premier League's (EPL) quality, three former footballers believe that the 23-year-old competition is still the world's best.

"You only have to look at the statistics. It is still the most watched league in the world and the most exciting league in terms of competitiveness," said Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who scored 113 goals in 213 EPL appearances.

"Look at the bottom end. It is amazing. At one point, you would have thought that Sunderland and Leicester would go down and then suddenly there they are, producing upsets and clawing their way out of the bottom three.

"You don't get these scenarios in other leagues. That is why the EPL is such a phenomenon."

Wright, former Everton midfielder Graham Stuart and former Stoke forward Mamady Sidibe were in town yesterday to attend the Barclays Asia Trophy Singapore media launch.

Unexpected results have been common this season in England's top domestic league, most recently Arsenal's 1-0 home defeat by Swansea on Monday morning and Manchester United's 0-3 loss to Everton a few weeks ago.

Sidibe, 35, noted: "Every game that you watch, you are not really sure who is going to win.

"As a Stoke player, visiting opposition grounds like Old Trafford and Emirates were intimidating but as players, we believed we could beat the opponents."

Stuart, 44, explained: "Football worldwide is becoming stronger. The reality is that when you get to the quarter-finals (of the Champions League and Europa League) you are playing top-class opposition.

"Clearly it hasn't been an English side's year but that does not mean there is a slide in the EPL as a product. It is the best league in the world."

One side booted out in the Champions League round of 16 were Arsenal, on away goals by Monaco after the two-legged tie ended 3-3 on aggregate.

Wright, 51, is clear on what his former club, with whom he won the 1997-98 English title, need to do to be considered contenders in Europe and at home.

"We need the right attitude," he said. "We've a very good squad and perhaps we need a couple of additions - a really good goalkeeper and a top striker, a £40 million to £50 million (S$83 million to S$104 million) striker, who can play alongside Olivier Giroud.

"Arsenal are not far away but it comes down to attitude and mentality because clearly, we have the quality."

Quality is what football fans in Singapore will get to see when Stoke, Everton and Arsenal compete in the seventh edition of the Barclays Asia Trophy on July 15 and 18 at the National Stadium.

A Singapore Select XI managed by former Singapore striker V. Sundramoorthy will make up the final team in the only EPL-affiliated competition to be held outside England.

Any concerns that the pre-season games will lack competitiveness were allayed by Wright, who said: "Once you cross the white line, you forget it's pre-season."

This article was first published on May 13, 2015.
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