While Britain’s political class bumble, stumble and disgruntle in Europe, its footballing representatives continue to be first past the post. Nine entered the Champions League and Europa League group stages, nine have progressed to the next round of negotiations: Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal as well as Celtic and Rangers – the most convincing majority since 07-08. With the Champions League Round-of-16 and Europa League Round-of-32 scheduled for the 18th and 23rd of February respectively, hopes of a British exit from Europe being finalised by the 31st of January have been hit by yet another delay. Damn those pesky UEFA bureaucrats.
While the red men were eviscerated in Westminster, at Anfield and beyond their footballing counterparts continue to prove they’re a force for many (trophies), not few. When their charismatic, forward-thinking leader arrived in 2015, he made a lot of crazy promises. “When I sit here in four years, I’m pretty sure we will have won a title”, he boldly stated in his very first press conference. Unlike Jeremy, Jürgen delivered. Liverpool were triumphant in Madrid last season and the available evidence suggests there is every chance of history repeating itself. Despite being troubled by Napoli for a second successive season, Liverpool navigated the group stages with relative ease. They are outright favourites to go the distance again this campaign, even if they make no secret of their focus being set firmly on domestic policy.
But what about the blue team? Unlike the Conservative Party, Manchester City are famous for their empty seats. Again, unlike the all-conquering Tories, Guardiola’s men are lagging well behind their red rivals domestically, and their former-leader, Vincent Kompany, is demonstrably pro-Brussels having left for Anderlecht at the end of last season. But that is where the dissimilarities end. One’s a billionaire-backed mega-organisation who were out in the cold until about 2010 and whose ultimate ruler has a more than questionable attitude towards human rights, the other is… well, I’m sure you’re familiar with the joke format. Ethical murky waters aside, Manchester City’s football, in Europe at least, is perfectly upstanding. They remain the UK’s only unbeaten team and, in stark contrast to their approach in the league, have given game time to Phil Foden, a valuable commodity in the youngster’s situation.
As for the Scottish, they’ve been trying to break free from the shackles of English supremacy –both legislative and sporting – for decades. But, in the inverse outcome to the European question put to the public in 2016, Scottish clubs’ football suggests they’re more inclined to leave Europe rather than remain. However, on the 12th of December, they increased their share with both Glasgow clubs confirming their place in the last-32. But the engorged success of their English overlords means they’ll have to wait to go it alone in Europe. With regards to English hopes in the Champions League and Europa League, with VAR in play in both competitions, there’s little chance that the reff’ll end ’em – much to the Scotts’ dismay.
Chelsea are set to rejoin the customs union in January after a successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport saw their transfer ban reduced. Only time will tell whether these circumstances prove to be fruitful. But in the Champions League Chelsea have proved they can be self-sufficient even in the most competitive of markets – their domestic products produced or scored six of their 11 group stage goals in one of the trickiest groups. Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho is back in the capital, not with Chelsea but as Leader of the Opposition, Spurs. Under his stewardship, they recovered from Bavarian obliteration to comfortably advance to the Round-of-16. As runners-up, both clubs will likely face demanding ties in the next stage. In the Europa League, newcomers Wolves successfully navigated their group. So too did old-hands by now Arsenal (who in late November reached a withdrawal agreement with Unai Emery) and Manchester United (who under Solskjaer’s Norwegian model are displaying tentative signs of recovery) meaning it’s a full house of UK teams at the business end of the European competitions.