LONDON: The leading English clubs can become “the Barcelonas and Real Madrids of tomorrow” according to BT Sport presenter Gary Lineker.
The former England and Barcelona striker believes that the financial power of the Premier League will persuade the next generation of the world’s leading players to follow top coaches such as Pep Guardiola to England.
Spanish clubs have dominated the later stages of both the Champions League and the Europa League in recent seasons, with Chelsea the Premier League’s lone winners of the senior competition in the past eight years.
But Lineker expects that to change before long.
“At the moment Spanish football is super-dominant, but I think we’re just at the start of becoming more impactful in Europe,” he said on Monday.
“If you look at our sides, we haven’t got the world-class superstars who still generally go to Real Madrid or Barcelona, Bayern Munich as well.
“So we’ve been going through a period where we’ve just not been good enough really.
“But now we’re seeing that the best coaches in the world go to our league and I think the best players will come because our league is where all the real money is.
“It might not be this generation in terms of the Messis and Ronaldos it’s a bit late for them. But I’m almost convinced that we’ll see the next superstars come to our league and our big clubs will be the Barcelonas and Real Madrids of tomorrow.
“The only other place that could compete is China and big players are not going to want to go there until the end of their careers.”
Meanwhile Lineker doubts that talk of a rival world league will translate into reality.
“It’s difficult to imagine how it could actually work, unless it’s an absolute breakaway with all the giants in the world and they completely disregard their own leagues,” he said. “But I’m not sure football fans would ever allow that to happen.”
Lineker will be fronting television station BT Sport’s Champions League coverage and expects to see all four English clubs in the knockout stage. “I suspect Manchester City would have the best chance of success this season and they could conceivably go all the way,” he said.
“Guardiola has managed to change the way they play so quickly. It says a lot about his players as well, but it shows what a master teacher he clearly is.
“I totally applaud that. I’ve winced at pundits talking about the times you’ve got to play percentages and whack the ball out of play. Let’s see if Guardiola can prove that kind of attitude wrong. Let’s play. If they make the odd mistake, it doesn’t matter. I’ve thought that for years. So I’ll be fascinated to see it.”
Lineker believes that Tottenham Hotspur, another of his former clubs, can also do well, although playing home games at Wembley, rather than at their nearby north London home of White Hart Lane, in search of bigger crowds, could prove a disadvantage.
“Tottenham fans generally make for a good atmosphere and I’m sure they’ll want to do the same in the Champions League,” he said. “But then you lose some familiarity when you play your own home games at a place where you don’t normally play.”
Meanwhile Leicester City, his first club and the team he supports, have to overcome the absence of N’Golo Kante, who left for Chelsea in pre-season.
“(Leicester manager) Claudio Ranieri was saying he could play the way he did (last season) because having Kante was like having two midfield players. But Claudio is canny and I suspect tactically he will adjust. I think he will have to.
“But I still can’t quite get my head round the fact that Leicester are not only playing in the Champions League but as the champions of the Premier League.”
Lineker backed The Foxes to come through the group stage, but cannot see them beating one of the big clubs in the knockout rounds. However, he could not resist saying: “I suspect I’ll get a little bit emotional when they walk out for the final in Cardiff in May.”