Alan Hansen is right when he says
Things have changed a lot in English football since I was playing for Liverpool and chasing several trophies in the way Manchester United are now.
On the other hand, he is not correct to say that “the biggest difference” is that “United have got more strength in depth than the others [Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea] put together.”
The top teams and players may still be playing 60 odds games today as they were in Hansen’s day. However, even with better physical conditioning, the physical demands of the game on players are far greater today than they were a quarter of a century ago. The game is faster, with stronger players challenging for the ball.
Further, clubs play far more competitive games in the Champions League than they did in the old European Cup.
If clubs don’t rotate their players, the physical demands take their toll on players. As Hansen points out
The big concern about Liverpool, even when they were top of the table in January, was that they relied too much on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.
It turned out to be true – they have missed Torres’ goals when he has been out and it is is impossible to keep asking just one player to win games for you. Gerrard has had a fantastic season but he cannot do everything on his own.
The real difference is the number of players rested or injured to cope with the physical demands of the modern game.
Players injured or rested reduces football as a spectacle. Why should fans pay as much as they do to watch football if top players aren’t playing? Further, the physical damage done to players when they are pushed beyond their physical limits puts their long term career at risk, and is a matter that the Professional Footballers’ Association ought to take a greater interest in.
Ultimately, the way to level the playing field is to have the top European clubs play each other more regularly in fewer, more competitive games.
The solution is having the top European clubs leave their domestic leagues to play exclusively in a European league of 16 to 18 teams playing each other home and away at the weekend.
For old times’ sake, these clubs could continue to play in major domestic cup competitions.
A European league should be part of a broader European pyramid, with promotion and relegation, and not a breakaway league. Such a structure would resolve several other issues currently undermining top level football in England and Europe.