The Premier League has held center stage in Europe this week, capturing the imagination of EPL fans from Southport to Shanghai and from Hong Kong to Hendon.
In midweek, spellbinding dramas involving Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur resulted in only the second all-English Champions League final next month.
Chelsea and Arsenal then ensured in the early hours of Friday morning for Asian fans that the success of EPL teams would not be just limited to the continent’s top club competition.
In another amazing night, they both reached the Europa League showpiece to give the Premier League an unprecedented four European finalists – the first time there has been such a sweep.
This incredible feat on the football field comes, ironically, as the United Kingdom wrestles with Brexit, the painful and protracted withdrawal from the European Union.
Only twice before in European football – the 1972 UEFA Cup and 2008 Champions League – had two English teams contested a final, but two improbable comebacks guaranteed another such clash on June 1 in Madrid.
Liverpool, last year’s runners-up to Real Madrid, ended Spain’s five-year grip on the continent’s top club prize as they shocked Lionel Messi and Barcelona – their stunning 4-0 win at Anfield inspiring Tottenham to a fightback every bit as inconceivable 24 hours later.
“We saw Liverpool last night. It just goes to show it’s not over until it’s over,” Spurs defender Danny Rose said after his side rallied from a 3-0 aggregate deficit at half-time to break Ajax hearts thanks to a second-half hat-trick from Lucas Moura.
“We enjoyed a lot watching the tie against Barcelona. They are heroes too and, of course, it is going to be an amazing final between two English teams that for sure we are going to enjoy,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino added.
Despite record broadcast deals bringing in billions from around the globe, English clubs have been out-thought and out-played at Champions League level during the past decade.
Yet while Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich have dominated at home in recent years, no club has retained the EPL title since Manchester United in 2009, in Cristiano Ronaldo’s final season at Old Trafford.
The constant grind of England’s top six vying every season for just four Champions League places allows nobody to rest on their laurels, on the pitch or off it in the recruitment process.
Crucially, the Premier League now also boasts not only money but world-class coaching that has been given time to build.
And it has a distinctly mainland Europe flavor.
Spanish-born Pep Guardiola is in his third season as Manchester City manager, German Jurgen Klopp in his fourth at Liverpool and Argentinian Pochettino is near the end of season five at Spurs.
“The level of the Premier League I think is clear,” said Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri, whose turbulent first season in England could finish on an unexpected high with a top-four place already secured.
“If you consider we got to the final in the League Cup and we had to play against Liverpool, Tottenham and the final against Man City, you have an idea about the level.”
Italian Sarri will now pit his wits against Spain’s Unai Emery as Chelsea face Arsenal in the Europa League final in Baku on May 29.
Chelsea needed a penalty shoot-out to beat Eintracht Frankfurt in their Europa League semi-final, while a Pierre-Emerick Aubayemang hat-trick took the Gunners to a 4-2 win over Valencia for a 7-3 aggregate.
The final will be Arsenal’s first in Europe since they lost the 2006 Champions League to Barcelona.
“I am very proud of the players and the supporters. The players did all they could and we can be proud of the whole club,” Emery, who once coached Sevilla to three Europa League titles, said.
Valencia coach Marcelino hailed the strength of the Premier League.
“Arsenal had a bigger punch,” he said.
But then, that’s the EPL, a melting pot of talent from all over the world.
– additional reporting by AFP