For the second time in three years the UEFA Champions League final will be an all-English affair, with the financial might of the Premier League and the backing of mega-rich owners helping clear the path to Istanbul for Chelsea and Manchester City.
They initially signed up for the breakaway Super League, along with the rest of England’s so-called ‘Big Six’, before withdrawing from the controversial plan.
The Super League could never have gone ahead without the biggest clubs from the Premier League, but England’s giants had the least to gain from it.
The English top flight is by far the most lucrative in Europe, with broadcasting deals that dwarf those elsewhere.
That allowed Liverpool to collect 152.4 million pounds ($211m) in prize money in 2018/19, the last full season before the pandemic. Even relegated Huddersfield Town picked up 96.6 million pounds, more than Bayern Munich got for winning the Bundesliga.
Such rewards have helped establish the Premier League at the forefront of European football. In terms of English dominance in Europe, we have been here before.
In 2019, as Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur to win the Champions League, Chelsea defeated Arsenal in the Europa League final.
According to analysts Deloitte’s Football Money League, the three top-earning clubs in the world last season were Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern, with Manchester United and Liverpool following on.
However, 12 of the top 30 were Premier League clubs, with even Sheffield United earning more than AC Milan.
Wealthy backers are attracted from abroad to buy England’s biggest clubs, and so it is that Chelsea and City, the two clearest examples of what impact mega-rich benefactors can have, come to meet in the final.
This is Chelsea’s third final since Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich bought the London club in 2003.
After losing to Manchester United in the 2008 final, the first between two English clubs, Chelsea won it in 2012.
Now they have made it back, coincidentally after spending close to 250 million euros ($300 million) on new signings last summer.
It is City’s first Champions League final since Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bought the club in 2008.
Istanbul will come almost exactly 22 years after City needed penalties to beat Gillingham in the English third-tier play-off final. It has been some transformation.
The financial rewards of the Premier League and the investment of their owners has helped these clubs, along with Liverpool, Spurs, United and Arsenal, to attract many of the world’s best players but also, crucially, the very best coaches.
Premier League ‘extraordinary’
Chelsea and City’s success is as much the success of the men in the dugout, with Pep Guardiola close to cementing his status as the finest coach of his generation and Thomas Tuchel leading the Stamford Bridge side to the final little over three months after being appointed.
Chelsea were underperforming under Frank Lampard. Now they are supremely well-organised and the impact of top-class coaching is clear to see — they have kept 18 clean sheets in 24 matches under Tuchel, who took Paris Saint-Germain to last season’s final.
“Here I have found such a strong club, a club totally focused on winning, with a very strong mentality, where I have had so much support since the first day, and the Premier League is extraordinary because you don’t get the chance to put your feet up," Tuchel told French broadcaster RMC.
“You always have to give 100 percent and that has an impact on the mentality of the club and the players."
Unlike their semi-final opponents PSG, City have not thrown money at just a couple of superstar players but rather invested in building the perfect squad and support staff for Guardiola.
“This club is about all the people that work behind the scenes, it’s not just about money. If you want to think that then you are wrong," Guardiola said.
It is almost impossible for him to fail, and they stand on the verge of a third Premier League title in four seasons as well as possible Champions League glory.
In 2019 it was Jurgen Klopp who saw off Mauricio Pochettino in Madrid.
Now, after Bayern took the trophy to Germany last year, it will be either a Spaniard or a German leading either an Emirati or Russian-owned club to Champions League victory, but the English will happily take the glory.