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AC Milan’s San Siro! Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu! Wigan Athletic’s DW Stadium??

23 September 2012 by

The greatest club competition in the world is back. No, not the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy! The Champions League, scene of Chelsea’s greatest triumph, only a few months ago. The stage for the greatest players in the world. The unfathomable script, and storylines that can play out over the competition and give bloggers like me those vital few extra inches of column.

Manchester City could be forgiven for thinking that they have been given the toughest draw. Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Ajax. Tough luck, City fans! This is what will be popularly known as the Champions’ group. It’s probably great for the other teams, as it not only sees the toughest opponents sidelined until at least 2013, and February. They must have been pleased when they were drawn away from the likes of Ronaldo, Gotze and Gareth Barry.

To hear the pundits and commentators, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Champions League is the be all and end all of football. It isn’t. For sure, it’s got the best players, the best teams, the best stadiums. Who wouldn’t want to go to the Nou Camp, with 90,000 fans chanting? Who wouldn’t want to go to the legendary San Siro, instead of going to a windy, rainy, half-empty DW Stadium?

But the League is always the most important objective. Forget what they say about Abramovich’s aim every season being the Champions League. The most important target of the season is to continue to stay in the Top 4. Qualification for the Champions League is the only way to win the Champions League – as Arsene Wenger knows, they do not give out trophies for

1) Staying at the same club for a long time

2) Wearing a cool puffer jacket (admit it, you all want one)

3) Not winning a trophy

5) Finishing outside the Top 4 (like this point! See, it’s Number 5, so it won’t qualify for the Champions League! Geddit? Haha!)

Sorry about that.

So there we have it. The Champions League is the most high-profile. It’s the most glamorous. And it’s got the best moments. Who could imagine the drama of Istanbul 2005 being re-created in the League Cup, with 19-year-old rookies trying to outdo Steven Gerrard dragging his team to victory? Who could envisage the pressure of Zidane’s volley being matched at Stoke on a Tuesday night?

But maybe, just maybe… you need those matches against Stoke, Wigan, and Sunderland on a cold Monday night. Without someone bundling in Lampard’s mis-kicked corner, Oscar won’t be able to score a goal like that again any time soon. He’d have to be content to score in the League, and whilst it would win my Goal of the Season today, it wouldn’t be the same as scoring past Buffon.

The Premier League may be the gateway to fame and riches beyond the imagining of most players, but they’ll have to put the hard graft in before they can dream of the Nou Camp and Allianz Arenas. They will need to visit the Stadium of Light, Sunderland, before they visit the Stadium of Light, Lisbon. They will have to put up with a long, hard slog.

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