Desailly, who lifted the Champions League with Marseille in 1993 and AC Milan a year later when they thrashed Barcelona 4-0, believes the Premier League's so-called 'big four' have much to learn from their major European rivals.
While Spain and Italy boast only one representative apiece in the last eight of this season's competition (Barcelona and Roma), Real Madrid have won Europe's premier club competition a record nine times and AC Milan seven.
Teams from England have won the European Cup 10 times to Spain and Italy's 11 each but since it rebranded as the Champions League in 1993 that ratio reads two-four-four and, in terms of finalists, four-seven-10.
Although England is the only country to have had at least one representative in the last 10 Champions League quarter-finals, Desailly insists the likes of Madrid and AC Milan continue to set the bar.
"The English teams have to follow how Real Madrid and AC Milan have managed to stay at that level over the past 15 years," he said.
"They have been there all the time and it's not just about money.
"Manchester United have that rhythm - every year they are there challenging for the league and Champions League.
"The secret is respect among the players, very hard work and a good attitude from the club towards the players.
"All the small details make the difference and allow you to become a major team in Europe."
Another of Desailly's former clubs, Chelsea, have failed to capitalise on three Champions League semi-finals in spite of the staggering investment provided by owner Roman Abramovich since 2003.
Chief executive, Peter Kenyon, envisages Chelsea being "internationally recognised as the world's number one football club by 2014" and Desailly suggests this is only possible if they make their mark on the Champions League this season.
"I feel there is a big gap between the image that Chelsea have generated and the facts of what Chelsea have," stated Desailly.
"They have to really concentrate to win at least the Champions League this year, so they have that trophy in their record."
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