LONDON, August 4, 2009 (AFP) – As Wayne Rooney and company left the Stadio Olimpico pitch to lick their wounds after last season's Champions League final, they trudged past Barcelona's players joyously tossing coach Pep Guardiola into the air.The message was clear for all to see. Spanish football was on the up and the Premier League’s big-guns were facing a significant threat to their position of pre-eminence in Europe.
Just 12 months previously United and Chelsea had rolled into Moscow for the first all-English Champions League final, a feat which was heralded as the start of a period of Premier League dominance of Europe’s elite club competition.
But those loud proclamations of a golden era have faded quickly in the aftermath of Barca’s 2-0 win over United in Rome in May.
The clear superiority of Barca’s playmakers gave an indication that the balance of power was starting to swing towards Spain again.
And if there was any doubt that the Premier League was losing its position at the top of the tree, Real Madrid have emphasised the point in emphatic fashion.
Infuriated by the success of their bitter rivals Barcelona, Real president Florentino Perez returned for a second spell at the Bernabeu vowing to keep spending until Madrid was the epicentre of the football world again.
Perez has been true to his word. He paid 60 million pounds to sign Brazil star Kaka from AC Milan, then consummated a two-year courtship of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Real had almost lured the Manchester United winger to Spain a year earlier and they finally got their man in June.
It took a world record 80 million pounds fee to prise Ronaldo from Old Trafford, but there was never any doubt that the Portuguese star wanted to leave and United were powerless to resist such a jaw-dropping fee.
Not content with that, Real out-bid United and Chelsea to land France striker Karim Benzema from Lyon for 38 million pounds.
The spending hasn’t stopped yet and Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso, valued at around 30 million pounds, looks set to join Alvaro Arbeloa in quitting Anfield for Madrid.
With the world’s top three players – Ronaldo, Kaka and Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s brilliant forward – now all playing in Spain, the lure of La Liga is undeniable.
For several years, the Premier League’s massive television contracts and the marketing success of United and company allowed the big four to pay wages that made England the most desirable destination for the world’s top players.
But the new 50p in the pound English tax for high earners is discouraging star players from moving to the Premier League.
Premier League clubs could face wage demands up to 70 percent higher than their rivals in Spain.
If a player negotiating a new contract this pre-season demanded three million euros (4.2 million dollars) per annum after tax, the cost to a Premier League club following the income tax increase in April 2010 would be 6.8 million euros, financial experts Deloitte have reported.
That is 70 percent more than the four million euros it would cost a Spanish club to give a foreign player the same net pay.
That disparity has played a substantial role in the power shift and Barca and Real are well placed to capitalise.
Barca look capable of mesmerising the best in Europe for years to come, while Real’s voracious appetite for signing superstars has made them a force again in just a matter of weeks.
The gauntlet has been thrown down. Now the Premier League’s best have to respond.