I love the Champions League (or at least I think I do)
Something is either DEFINITELY right or ABSOLUTELY wrong. This player is rubbish, no question, this player is fantastic, no debate.
There are no half-measures with us football people.
But talk to anyone about the Champions League and things start to unravel. It may be widely perceived as the greatest club competition in the world, it may produce some fantastic matches and feature the best players, but it is can also be utterly tedious and predictable.
How many real surprises do you get in the group stage? There is the odd upset, of course, but the same old teams usually qualify year after year and it really only comes to life in the knockout rounds.
I was at Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea beat Bordeaux 4-0 on Tuesday in a game so one-sided and, frankly, so boring in the second half, it was more like a Chelsea training session than an advert for Europe’s finest.
One of Britain’s leading soccer writers summed it up for me when we were at the draw in Monte Carlo last month. Ten minutes after the draw was completed and he started writing his story, he admitted he couldn’t remember who Manchester United had been grouped with. “To be honest, it doesn’t really matter because they will get through whoever they play,” he said.
I have always been in two minds about the competition. I’ve been fortunate to have seen 20 European Cup finals since 1968, and every Champions League final since 1995, and they are among the greatest occasions in sport — and the matches aren’t usually too bad either.
This year’s final in Moscow was one of the greatest sports events I’ve been lucky enough to be at.
But I’m still in two minds about it all. No, I’m not. Just get rid of the group stage. 32 teams. Knockout competition. There, it’ll be absolutely brilliant.
PHOTO: Chelsea’s Frank Lampard celebrates after scoring against Bordeaux during their Champions League Group A match at Stamford Bridge, September 16, 2008. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez