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EPL struggling to attract the very best

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Reuters

New Arsenal signing Alexis Sanchez, left, is good, make no mistake. But he certainly isnt in Messis league.Photo by: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

He looks great, Alexis Sanchez. Not best-player-at the-World Cup great, obviously. Not Golden Ball great. Not Thomas Muller. Not Lionel Messi. Not Arjen Robben. Not even Luis Suarez, for all his problems. But great, yes. Premier League great.

He’ll do for us. And that is the disturbing message for English football from this World Cup. There is what we regard as great in the Premier League, and then there is the notch up.

Sanchez was outstanding for a Chilean team that must now be cursing its crisis of confidence in a penalty shootout with the hosts, having seen the best of Europe make mincemeat of a poor Brazilian team.

Yet Sanchez isn’t quite Suarez. The player departing the Premier League, no matter the circumstances, is in the top three or four footballers in the world right now. If Sanchez sat in that company, he would still be at Barcelona.

Sanchez is a good signing for Arsenal and a fine player, but he is also what the Premier League tends to attract these days: the level just below the very top. Ultimately, Cristiano Ronaldo left, as did Suarez, as did Robben, even Gareth Bale. Cesc Fabregas is back but only because his glorious return to Barcelona did not quite go as planned. That doesn’t make our domestic football bad: just not as impressive as it is cracked up to be.

There are three individual awards presented here, the Golden Ball (player of the tournament), Golden Glove (best goalkeeper) and Young Player. The various shortlists comprised 16 names and not one played his club football in the Premier League.

Some may consider this harsh. There was only one defender listed for the Golden Ball, Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund and Germany, and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany certainly did not seem his inferior in his five games for Belgium.

Equally, Tim Howard of the United States and Everton has as much claim to the Golden Glove as Sergio Romero of Argentina and Monaco.

Yet, when it comes to the stellar talents — the forwards, the creatives —the Premier League lags behind. Eden Hazard, Oscar, even Robin van Persie after that initial stunning goal, where were they?

What stands out about the Fifa shortlists is not so much the domination of players based in Germany and Spain, but the smattering that had a look at the Premier League, shrugged, and went elsewhere. Robben, Paul Pogba, Javier Mascherano — even Manuel Neuer turned down Manchester United for Bayern Munich on leaving Schalke 04. James Rodriguez instantly rejected the prospect of leaving Monaco for an English club.

The Premier League was decently represented in the Maracana last night, as one would expect given the number of foreign players employed at English clubs; but the adopted Anglos were not the driving forces behind the success of Germany and Argentina.

Pablo Zabaleta has hit the level of consistency one would expect and Martin Demichelis continues to do much to correct negative first impressions with Manchester City.

Yet Per Mertesacker of Arsenal was dropped by Germany, and many consider his team-mate Mesut Ozil fortunate not to have suffered the same fate. Andre Schurrle has made a good impact here, but only from the substitutes’ bench, while injury once again hampered Sergio Aguero. Largely, it has been players from the Bundesliga and La Liga, even Ligue 1 in France, that have propelled these nations towards the tournament’s pinnacle.

Why does this matter? Well, a young English player that finds his path blocked by, say, Mascherano would be one thing; by Paulinho quite another.

This World Cup merely encourages the long-held belief that while Germany made a conscious effort to embrace the next generation of young talent, there are too many Premier League clubs and coaches taking an easy way out, importing when they could be developing.

Sanchez (left) is without doubt the top end of this particular market and will add to the quality of the Premier League — yet, equally, the woeful Cameroon squad included seven players that had at some time been on the books at Premier League clubs.

We are kidding ourselves if we think our young talent hits an impasse at Messi or Ronaldo. The very best don’t want to play with us. Is it not time we tried to do it ourselves? – Daily Mail


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