In "The Mixer," Michael Cox tells the story of Manchester United winger Andrei Kanchelskis (1991-95) muttering "English football is s---" as he stormed off the practice field, protesting what he felt were pointless crossing drills. Kanchelskis wasn't wrong. In the years following the Heysel ban, as English teams were reintegrated into European football competitions, it had quickly become clear that English football was stuck in the dark ages. No team advanced beyond the second round of the European Cup from 1991 to '93, and when the competition became the UEFA Champions League and introduced group play, nobody made it out of the group stage in 1994 or 1995.

While the game was evolving into something more controlled and creative in other parts of Europe, English football was still pretty reliant on long-bomb passing, hopeful crosses and hard tackles. Alex Ferguson, Kanchelskis' manager at the time of "s---," took these failures to heart. Long considered a "man-manager" (the soccer way of saying "players' coach") more than a master tactician, his biggest strength ended up becoming his adaptability. He brought more creativity to the club and he expanded his tactical repertoire. Both he and United evolved.

They not only dominated the Premier League (eight titles between 1993 and 2003), but in 1997, they broke through to the Champions League semifinals. Two years later, they won the whole thing ww88 .

United served as a bellwether of sorts for the rest of the Premier League, giving other clubs a template from which to work, and the combination of tactical awareness and increasing money from TV rights -- which allowed top clubs to import choice playing and coaching talent from all over the globe -- would turn the league into a juggernaut. Liverpool won the Champions League, with Chelsea reaching the semifinals, in 2005. Arsenal made the finals in 2006, and three English teams made at least the semifinals in 2007, 2008 and 2009. United won its second title in 2008.

But innovation never stops. It is a constant race to stay ahead. Ferguson was kept from two more European crowns by Pep Guardiola and Barcelona in 2009 and 2011, and by the end of Ferguson's United tenure in 2013, the Premier League had again lost its edge. From 2010 to '13, English teams made only two combined semifinal appearances (United lost in the 2011 finals, Chelsea won an unlikely title in 2012) and in 2013, no team made it out of the Round of 16. Ferguson's retirement left a void not only for United but also for this rich but increasingly directionless league w88 mobile .

It was somewhat symbolic that Barcelona was the team to hold Man United back. Those Barca teams, along with the Spain squads (loaded with Barca players) that won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, did more to redefine the game of soccer than any in recent times. Barca showed the world the platonic ideal of an ultra-patient, possession-first, kill-the-body-and-the-head-will-follow squad. By the time of Ferguson's retirement, Guardiola had left Barcelona and was preparing for three seasons at Bayern Munich. And by the time Guardiola came to England to coach Manchester City in 2016, the league's re-evolution had taken hold.

It has only picked up speed since.

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