A Bleak Future for The Premier League?

dennis berryContributor IApril 18, 2010

ZAGREB, CROATIA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Croatia Manager Slaven Bilic gives a thumbs down during the FIFA 2010 World Cup Qualifying Group Six match between Croatia and England at the Maksimir Stadium on September 10, 2008 in Zagreb, Croatia.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Phil Cole/Getty Images

The picture you see here may well represent the growing international opinion of the once glorified Premier League.

Last season, England had three Champions League Semi-finalists, and boasted an embarrassment of talent and wealth. But this season has been very different.

A League will inevitably be judged by the teams considered to be its elite. In England's case, those teams must now be Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal. All three sit comfortably above the rest of the league—all three usually do. But these squads are not what they once were, and the clubs in general can no longer claim to be world leaders —at least not for much longer.

Starting with Chelsea, a team which has risen to the status of perpetual title challenger over the last few seasons, a team with indomitable wealth and ambition, but also, now, a team which lives up to the nickname 'the Pensioners'. Some of Chelsea's core performers—for the sake of argument, Drogba, Anelka, Lampard—are 32, 31 and 31, respectively, and within the team there does not seem to be youngsters coming through to replace them. Fans of the Blues may argue a corner for Kakuta, who looks set to have a bright future, or Borini and Sturridge, both of whom have undoubted potential, but none of them look to have the X Factor which makes a footballing superstar.

Previously, Chelsea's fall back may have been injections of millions from their Russian Sugardaddy, Roman Abramovich, but after declaring the club 'virtually debt free' earlier this season, there have been rumblings throughout the footballing community that he is no longer prepared to bankroll over-valued players to bring Chelsea glory.

Chelsea will no doubt continue to compete at the top for a very long time, but they may soon find out, as Manchester United have done, that a longstanding core of World-Class players is almost impossible to replace without spending a huge amount of money.

Moving to the Red Devils themselves, and criticisms from all corners are not hard to find. Many are unfounded, others not given enough prominence, but one argument which no one will dispute is the lack of spark from central midfield.

It's all very good having top class players like Rooney up front if you possess a dominant central force, but as United have found out against top opposition this year, the lack of a real playmaker can be costly.

Over the last few seasons, this weakness has been papered over first by Ronaldo, and now by Rooney, and also by the fact that United possess arguably the best defence in England. However, Michael Carrick's form has plummeted at an alarming rate, and despite his renaissance in form, Scholes is only getting older. Gibson is hardly cut out for this level, no matter how often Fergie blows his trumpet, and Fletcher's threat going forward is virtually nil. Yet this weakness is one which the coaching staff have repeatedly refused to address. Given that United have been on a bit of a spending spree lately, it should bring a grimace to many faces that Ferguson has brought in a defender and a striker, two areas which, arguably, they are already over-equipped in, rather than a new ball-player.

Finally, Arsenal's season next year is going to depend a lot on Fabregas' decision of whether to go or stay. Magnificent personality though he is, the best players want to win trophies, and as Arsenal slide further and further down the pecking order, his feet are only going to get itchier. Even if Fab stays, a lot depends on whether Wenger can swallow his ego to bring in a big-money goalkeeper and a 'bully' centre-back. Vermaelen and Gallas are, don't get me wrong, great players, but they are both ball-playing centre backs, and neither has the physical presence of a Terry or a Vidic.

Regardless of what happens, the three clubs will occupy the top three places in the Premiership next season.

The question is, are they still continental leaders, or is English football losing its dominance?