Tuesday the 18th will see the return of the UEFA Champions League in which Chelsea will defend their title against the elite of Europe. However, recently I was listening to a podcast by the Guardian newspaper called Football Weekly in which one of the commentators started to discuss the group that Real Madrid. Man City, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund had been drawn in together. He then made a point, which perplexed me, in which he stated that it was ‘too early’ for big clubs to play each other at this stage. And that has got me thinking, is that not the point of the Champions League?
In the early 1950’s Wolverhampton Wanderers won a series of friendlies which led to the English press crowning them as ‘Champions of the World’. This lead the editor of L’Equipe, Gabriel Hanot to eventually convince UEFA to put into practice a tournament which would properly determine the best of the best. The concept was conceived in Paris in 1955 and became known as the European Champions Clubs Cup, better known as the European Cup. Finally in 1992 it was re-named as the UEFA Champions League.
As a result of the decision to create this tournament, we have seen thrills, spills and great moments that will never be forgotten. The competition has seen Europe’s elite players show the fine art that is the Beautiful Game. Players such Di Stefano(Real Madrid), the Busby Babes, George Best(Man Utd), Kenny Daglish and Graeme Souness(Liverpool) and more recent Lionel Messi(Barcelona). We have seen great teams that at the heart of many football debates such as Real Madrid in the 50’s, Liverpool in the 70’s, Bayern Munich, Ac Milan, Barcelona and Manchester United become idols of world football because of the creation of this great competition.
However in recent times the competition has lost its way. The system of seeding teams as created a lull in the game where the so called big teams avoid each other playing weaker teams and qualifying with relative ease. Last season, with the exception of Man Utd, most of Europe’s elite clubs qualified with ease. Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid(who won all 6 group games). So whats the point of watching teams go through the motions to qualify, watching routine games in which big clubs win with comfort and not create those magic moments we have seen in the past? Watch any group game match with a big club and you wont be in the least bit surprised by the result. Shock results and knockouts are few and far between in the group stage. And the simple fact of the matter is…..its boring.
So what can be done. Well its simple. Open draw. Lets take a look at the games that will happen in the so called group of death. Real Madrid will host Man City in the first game and already its a mouth watering clash. Now the point can made that at this stage a poor result for either side wont decide their fate in the competition but both side will definitely want a win and both sides are capable of wining. But more important is that fact that both sides will want to prove a point that they are the best and so the game no longer becomes just about the three points and more about the egos of the big name players. This makes it promising for a good game. Now lets look at the other side of the coin. Man Utd will host Galatasaray at Old Trafford and lets be honest, ask any honest pundit and the majority will say a simple home win. This fixture isn’t a mouth watering clash and many wont rush home to to their TV’s so as to not miss a kick.
An open draw would certainly spice things up even before a ball is kicked. Even before the draw in Monaco every year most teams have a list of possibilities of who the can face an who they will avoid on hoping for an easier path to the final. To be fair most teams would want the easiest path tho the final so they can win it and that’s to be expected. But the initial prospect of the the big guns meeting from the off is something to be excited about. Now this is no disrespect to any of the weaker teams in the competition because lets not forget that these teams in there in right are champions themselves. Many do forget this fact including bigger clubs. Go 2-0 up against these sides and take your foot of the gas and you can and will be punished. Why? Well its simple. Winning in any country is the same. If you know how to do it and win a league you can do it in any match.
Now I’m sure UEFA have some immediate concerns about bigger clubs making complaints simply because they don’t want hard games. Well the answer to that is simple. Hard Luck. If you want to be the best, beat the best. And I’m sure they have sponsors and TV stations who will want the bigger teams in the latter stage to boost ratings and so on and i can see the point. But lets look at it a different way. Imagine the scenario in which two bigger clubs play in every matchday and quarter final, semi final and final stages surly the ratings have the potential to go through the roof. Then UEFA turn to there sponsors and say the same thing in which there advertising’s will be seen possibly by a wider audience including those neutrals who just want the prospect of the best players playing great football.
Taking all this into account, the simple truth remains, its a win/win situation. UEFA run a great competition like it was meant to be when it started all those years ago, TV men and sponsors are happy because as corporate men they want to be seen and the fans at home will be happy because they will have something real to look forward to on a cold wet wintry Tuesday or Wednesday night. Too early you say, piff let champions play champions i say.
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