I love the Champions League (or at least I think I do)

September 18, 2008

Lampard celebratesFootball fans, football bosses, even us football journalists do not usually sit on the fence when it comes to giving our opinions on the issues of the day.

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

3 comments

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Much as I’d also like to see it, it’ll never happen, there’s too much money at stake and too few spots available in the knock-out competition you propose.

For a start, 32 teams in the knock-out is not enough for all the UEFA associations to send their league champions along (seeding teams just perpetuates the current status quo).

Even extending that out to 64 teams would leave large numbers of clubs without European football unless you either extend the UEFA cup (probably unworkable given its current size) or create another cup competition to take up the slack. If you reduce the number of teams in competition, you also reduce the revenues for both UEFA and the clubs.

The large club sides in the major leagues (England, Spain, Italy, France, Germany) can more or less guarantee Champions League football 5 seasons out of 6 and removing that certainty too quickly would cause many to collapse.

I’m also nostalgic for a true Cup of Champions, but I just don’t think it can happen.

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It’s better now than when we had two group stages. That really did drag on, and still the same clubs tended to get through.

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

[...] else who wants to rid UEFA competitions of the group stage. (Reuters Soccer Blog) Category: Daily Dose Tags: Add new tag, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Bundesliga, Champions [...]

You have a very short memory, Mike. Was it not just two seasons ago that United were in a very unfrightening group of Villarreal, Benfica and Lille? And, not quite so predictably, they finished last. And, of course, everyone predicted Cluj’s 2-1 away win over Roma last week, didn’t they?

Posted by Paul Radford | Report as abusive