As beautiful as the UEFA Champions League is one thing suddenly hit me when viewing the group stage draw in Monaco last Thursday – and that was the realisation of just how contradictive the title and format of the competition really is.
It is club football’s premier competition where the continent’s most scintillating players and charismatic coaches pit their wits against one another to experience the aura and drama of a Tuesday/Wednesday night from all four corners of Europe. When that glorious anthem bellows around sold out stadiums in subzero temperatures in Russia or during a dreary ran filled night at Old Trafford, you know you are about to witness something special. The competition possesses a theatrical presence like no other competition in the world.
As fantastic as it is to see the likes of Real Madrid, Milan and Arsenal season after season showcasing their varied styles of play, it seems somewhat unfair how they are prioritised more so than champions of various countries across Europe.
For example the top seeded teams in last week’s draw contained Manchester United, Arsenal, Lyon and Milan – none of whom are champions of their respective leagues – but had still been seeded ahead of the likes of FC Twente, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Partizan Belgrade – who are indeed champions of theirs. This may seem obvious due to the enormity of the aforementioned clubs due to their history and prestige but none of them currently possess the title of ‘champions’ unlike the latter. As the title of the competition suggests – Champions League – shouldn’t the league champions have priority over the heavyweight teams in Europe regardless of what country they’re from?
The Champions League is such a huge phenomenon now since its expansion eighteen years ago it has more or less became the ‘symbolic’ competition of the sport – ahead of the FIFA World Cup. Staggering really at just how much it has evolved since the introduction of multiple clubs from different nations instead of just the league champions.
This is all well and good but shouldn’t all league champions who are participating in Europe be given a fair crack at participating in the tournament rather than having to take part in umpteen qualifying rounds before they can even taste the tournament in its ‘proper’ format?
Would a CFR Cluj vs Barcelona tie attract an audience on the scale of Barca taking on Milan? Of course not but in the interest of fairness Cluj should be gaining a primary slot in the tournament as they have achieved their champion status.
Revenue plays a massive part in UEFA’s thinking and rightfully so. Like any business they need to squeeze every last drop they can out of their big hitters. For UEFA a round of sixteen involving dominant, prestigious and fashionable clubs would be a success because of the mass audiences they would attract due to large fan bases. The likes of Partizan (Serbia), Zilina (Slovakia) Basel (Switzerland) and Bursaspor (Turkey) being lesser known clubs would not draw mass attention. Regardless of that fact they shouldn’t be overlooked by UEFA and should be treated with the same kind of grace like those in England, Italy, Spain and Germany.
It is such a pity for these clubs and their fans. As the competition’s name suggests they should have more right to be there than a team who has finished second,third or fourth.
The Champions League is a thing of beauty. The ambience it possesses and the spine tickling sensation it sounds down every player, coach and fan when its music plays is like no other entity in sport – but when you look at the bigger picture and its contradiction, clubs in Europe are missing out dearly.
It is pretty ironic really how a clubs status as ‘league champions’ isn’t even enough for them to gain entry into the (proper) competition.