Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day of the Big Money (or Champions) League!

Until the top clubs in Europe get together and form a continent-wide super league (shudder!), the closest they can get to performing competitively on a global scale is with the Champions League. The four English, and one Scottish, clubs in this year's tournament are all in action either today or tomorrow.

Given the domination of the English clubs in recent years, and not to mention the money involved, they are all expected to win. By me, anyway. Man Utd should dispatch Aalborg in Denmark without too much hassle, though Arsenal may have to grind out a result against Porto the Emirates Stadium. Liverpool should beat PSV Eindhoven at Anfield, while Chelsea should have a productive time in Romania against CFR Cluj.

Of the five teams, only Celtic start as a the clear underdogs. Villarreal are currently top of the Spanish league and Celtic have had an indifferent start to the season. Gordon Strachan has done well to lead the side to the last-16 of the Champions League for two successive seasons (something never achieved by Martin O'Neill, incidentally), but the opening 0-0 draw against Aalborg at Parkhead means Celtic will have to do the unexpected and actually win some points away from hom!

All of the money is in the Champions League, to an extent, and there is a massive audience for nearly all of the games. Although some, shall we say, mercenary players probably trot out the "I moved to Club X as they offered Champions League football" instead of admitting it was for the cash - something CL clubs generally have more of! The great gap in England has also been created by the same four clubs qualifying for a few years - reaching the CL means cash, cash means reaching the CL, and the cycle continues.

What is interesting, in this meandering and possibly fairly pointless post, is the comparison between the old European Cup format and the current Champions League format. One criticism often levied is "but they aren't all champions" and "in a league system teams can lose and still go through". Well, that's quite correct, and the name should be changed. But it's still a far, far stronger tournament than it was in the days of two-legged knock-outs.

For if only domestic champions were allowed in the Champions League, it would be far less competitive. Liverpool, for instance, may have been well off the pace in the Premier League but are arguably better than any other domestic champions outside of Spain and Italy. That three English teams reached last season's semi-finals, and two contested the final, suggests that.

And does anyone really want a tournament where, in one group, are the champions of England, France, Iceland and Georgia? The English and French clubs would progress, and the only vaguely interesting matches would be two between the top two, which would determine which club would finish first and second.

However, I should stress that I don't think the Champions League is ideal and the amount of money involved is ruining the game. But it's not worth trying to fight the inevitable. Because of the cash involved, the only teams who can compete domestically are the ones in the Champions League and it would take oil rich multi-billionaires throwing cash around to disrupt the current top-four in England.

Oh, wait a minute...!


John said...

I consider the Champions League a halfway place between domestic and international football. It has the attraction of seeing clubs from different countries pitting their wits against each other but, unlike in international games, they actually are used to playing with their team-mates.

Of course, with the explosion of the number of foreign players it's not as though it is really "country v country" these days, anyway. And we'll never get a repeat of 1967 when Celtic's winning XI were all born within a stone's throw of Celtic Park!

The Sloper said...

Interesting thoughts. Agree that it will never happen again - how many players actually have real ties, dating from when they were kids, with the clubs they play for? A pathetically tiny amount, sadly.

CelticBhoy said...

Celtic's matches are the only ones worth watching in the Champions League. The disgusting amount of cash available down south has ruined it for everyone else.