The Champions League has long reverted from being a competition for the ‘Champions’. From the top leagues across Europe, we are now used to seeing as many as four teams representing one nation.
The format has undoubtedly been successful. The Champions League is not only where the money is, but each evening of football provides the viewer with some of the highest quality entertainment — even outstripping the international game in terms of the level of ability on display. Gone are the days when we would see the likes of Skonto Riga as the whipping boys of the group. Nowadays each of the six initial games are closely fought affairs involving the best clubs around.
However, what has this meant for Europe’s secondary competition — the UEFA Cup?
12 years ago, the competition was taken by Bayern Munich in a 5-1 aggregate victory over Bordeaux. The names that graced the first round included the likes of Roma, Internazionale, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven, Lazio and Manchester United. If we care to look down the fixture list for the 2007/8 version and the only major European powerhouse we can see is Bayern. There are some names that have fallen from grace in recent years — Sampdoria and Fiorentina are prime examples, but generally, the sides are average at best.
The revision of Europe’s premier competition has left the UEFA Cup in tatters. Now we are beginning to ask the question as to whether continuing the trophy is necessary? Surely winning the UEFA Cup now is just a matter of saying you’re the best of an average, sub-standard bunch?
The Champions League can’t be held to account for all of the UEFA Cup’s woes however. Much of the blame has to be placed on the individuals who thought it would be a good idea making the format to the competition as ridiculously complicated as possible.
At present we have 2 preliminary ‘qualifying’ rounds, followed by a ‘1st’ round, all two legged affairs. The next stage for the victorious sides is a place in a group of 5 clubs, where strangely each team only plays each other once and its left to chance as to who you’ll be facing home or away. The top 3 are able to qualify through the groups, where the knock-out stages begin again, although are mixed in with eight failures from the Champions League group stages.
Still following? After this, the competition reverts to some sort of normalacy with two-legged matches up to the final, whereupon the final becomes just the one-off extravaganza.
There many issues with how the UEFA Cup is currently run. Ok it is obvious it’s never going to retain the allure of the Champion’s League. So the idea is to at least make it as exciting as possible. What’s wrong with a series of one-off knockout ties up to the final? The group stage of the competition is just a joke.
Two homes and two aways seems fair on the surface, but anyone with even the tiniest bit of football knowledge knows that a trip to Kiev in the middle of winter is not as appealing as say an away game in France. Some teams are obviously going to get the short-straw.
Other problems include the ludicrous idea of adding Champions League rejects to the mix, about two-thirds of the way through the competition. Not only does this give off the image of second-class competition, but does seem a bit harsh on a club that has played in the UEFA Cup from the beginning and perhaps contended with as many as 11 games up to that point. The Champions League sides could scrape into the UEFA Cup with a meagre return of one win from their six matches.
The UEFA cup over the years has steadily become an after-thought in European week. Coupled with the awful format is the fact there are simply too many teams in it. Consequently, we will definitely have Groclin or Crvena Zvezda going through to the group stages. Who, if you do pardon my ignorance? The solution is obviously to cut the competition down to size, because in truth there is potential for some decent games.
Lens, Panathinaikos, Zenit St Petersburg, Galatasaray, AEK, Leverkusen, Toulouse, Fiorentina, Tottenham, Everton and more are all compable of playing some decent football… let’s get these clubs playing each other earlier rather than wasting time with ridiculous match-ups between a bunch of unknowns.