Monday, January 21, 2013

Champions League...let's make it better

Happy 2013 to everyone, I cannot believe it is already the 21st and I haven't written a thing about footy! My apologies. So here we go with my first post of the year. It is about something that I have been stewing on for awhile now...the Champions League. For some of us old timers we remember when there were 3 European Cups -

  • The Cup of Champions (what is now the Champions League)
  • The Cup of Cups (for the winners of each respective domestic Cup)
  • The UEFA Cup (what is now the Europa League)

The Cup of Champions...was for....well, Champions. Teams had to win their domestic leagues to qualify. Therefore the name for the trophy. The tournament was also straight home-away knock out, making the games "count" right from the get go. The format also made the UEFA Cup important. For example, with that format teams like PSG, Manchester United, Arsenal, Valencia, Inter, Milan to name a few, would be in this competition this season as opposed to the Champions League.  The Cup of Cups would have the likes of Chelsea, Barcelona, Lyon, Dortmund and Napoli in this year's version. Granted you would not have the concentration of top clubs in one competition, but you would have teams slotted where they belong! Does it make sense that when Chelsea won the Champions League last season, they were only the third best team in LONDON (they finished behind Arsenal and Tottenham in the EPL) yet they were crowned the best team in Europe?? Does not seem to make sense. The teams in the Champion League...should be a champion! Having all these teams in the Champions League has made the Cup of Cups defunct and also made the Europa League irrelevant.

I think that the format has made winning a domestic title irrelevant as well! Why? Take Arsenal as a perfect example. What drives Gunner fans, like myself mad, is that Wenger and his band of merry men can basically run their team to challenge for a Champions League spot, as opposed to challenge for the league title! Arsenal have not really challenged for a title since Vieira was wearing the #4 strip and patrolling the midfield. Yet, Arsenal have consistently made the Champions League. So every season Arsenal have been able to enjoy the fruits of making the Champions League...but have not needed to do the necessary to secure a Champions' title within their own league! How is that good for the game?

So close for the Gunners in Paris...
The current format allows clubs in large leagues - England, Spain, Germany, Italy and to some extent France - to target a top 3 or 4 finish and be content. It has made the domestic league an exercise in qualification for the Champions League...rather than a chase for a title. Once this glut of "non" Champion teams make the tournament we are then forced to endure a group stage where games rapidly mean nothing to the standing and who gets through....yet we must suffer through those games.

I realize we cannot unring this bell, but I would argue that we must cut down the teams in the Champions League. Go back to teams that have WON their league. Bring back the Cup of Cups and the UEFA Cup. Go back to home/away elimination games, let us make the games count immediately. I am sure that, what UEFA cares about, the money will continue to flow with big games right from the start, across all three cups. I realize this will not happen...but one can always dream. Plus it might make Arsenal spend some money for once.

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