Too big to go down, too small for the Champions League
Champions League qualifying has begun so the new football season in Europe is well and truly underway.
But while Mogren of Montenegro celebrate their victory over Hibernians of Malta in the first qualifying round last week, spare a thought for those famous European sides who are unlikely to grace the competition even in a qualifying tie, let alone the group stage.
I live in London and there’s at least one good example right here. With Martin Jol at the helm, Tottenham Hotspur missed out on fourth spot in the Premier League (and a Champions League qualifying place) in the 2005/06 season by virtue of a defeat by local rivals West Ham United on the final day of the season.
Fans will always blame that on a virus that floored several first team players, but that’s another story…
They finished fifth again the following season but weren’t ever really in with a chance of coming fourth and since then they have reverted to their normal role of mid-table underachievers.
The future promises more of the same: too big to go down, too small to mix it with the big boys in the top four.
Tottenham’s billionaire owner Joe Lewis has the money — £2.5 billion according to Four Four two magazine’s latest annual Rich List (which puts him fourth behind the owners of Manchester City, Queen’s Park Rangers and Chelsea in British football) — but not the inclination to lavish hundreds of millions on transfers every season to bring in the world’s top players.
The club once snatched former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne from under the nose of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United but it is inconceivable that a player of his class would choose White Hart Lane over Old Trafford today.
Without big-name signings Tottenham are unlikely to ever break into the top four. Finishing sixth to 10th seems their best hope.
There are a lot of other clubs in the same boat, too — not just in the Premier League but around Europe. Sampdoria and Athletic Bilbao are examples in Italy and Spain.
Playing in the Champions League itself probably still feels a long way away for Mogren, but for Tottenham and the like it’s even further.