EPL clubs finding it hard to compete with Europe's best

Edinson Cavani.

So, amid the glitz and glamour, the hype and hysteria, the world's most popular football division returns, promising nine months of implausible drama and inevitable controversy.

And yet even the name may be a misnomer. The Premier League? Not in Europe where, for the first time since 1995-96, England failed to supply a Champions League quarter-finalist last season. And not in the transfer market either. French clubs are paying the biggest fees while their Spanish and German counterparts exert an irresistible allure to some of the world's top players.

This has been a chastening year for the Premier League. Consider how the opening weekend might have looked: Radamel Falcao might have been debuting for Chelsea. Edinson Cavani could have been Manchester City's record signing; either Cesc Fabregas or Thiago Alcantara may have been illuminating the Manchester United midfield. And while United, City and Chelsea all have new managers, the reality is that none is Pep Guardiola, who definitely interested the latter pair and would have had a stronger case than David Moyes, had he wanted to be Alex Ferguson's successor at Old Trafford.

Instead, Guardiola and Alcantara are at Bayern Munich, Falcao is in Monaco and Cavani begins life as a Paris Saint-Germain player.

The Premier League's plight could get worse if double Footballer of the Year Gareth Bale gets his wish and joins Real Madrid. That was Luis Suarez's preferred destination, too, even if Liverpool's unapologetic miscreant now claims he is no longer intent on escaping Anfield for Arsenal.

The collective impression is of a league losing its lustre.

The days of English domination in Europe are consigned to the past, the balance of power shifting to Spain when Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso moved to Madrid in 2009. Since then, England's only Champions League winners have been Chelsea, with their freakishly wonderful triumph last year. Yet, what the last few months have shown is that there is a two-pronged assault on the Premier League's finest.

Real and Barcelona tend to be the destination of choice for superstars, as Neymar has shown. They have the biggest financial turnover, a warmer climate and a greater chance of winning the Champions League. Bayern, Germany's economic powerhouse, join them among the aristocrats and, even before Guardiola's arrival, they were fashionable again.

But the old order is being rivalled by the nouveau riche. Once, Chelsea and City were the big-spending billionaires' playthings. Now, it is Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco.

The £55 million (S$109 million) Cavani is the fifth-most expensive footballer ever, the £51 million Falcao is the seventh. The English clubs can't - or won't - compete, partly because of Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules; and football finance experts are bemused how PSG expect to conform to them.

Instead of signing Cavani, City acquired two strikers, Stevan Jovetic (Montenegro) and Spain's Alvaro Negredo, for less. England's advantage is not at the height of the transfer market, but in possessing strength in depth.

Partly because of a more equitable distribution of television rights, seven Premier League clubs' turnover was big enough to place them in the top 20 of the 2011-12 Money List.

In comparison, there are only two Spanish representatives, enabling the English to raid La Liga's second-rank clubs.

Valencia lost Roberto Soldado to Tottenham, Sevilla Negredo and Jesus Navas to City, plus Luis Alberto to Liverpool and, incredibly, Gary Medel to Cardiff, while Malaga saw manager Manuel Pellegrini defect to the Etihad Stadium.

They may be players Real, Barcelona and Bayern do not need but they represent quality additions. And that is what the Premier League does these days: Hoover up the best of the rest.

stsports@sph.com.sg

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