With no English club in the last 8 of the Champions League for the first time in almost 20 years, it would be easy to see why English football fans might turn away from Europe’s top club competition, especially with three English teams still present in the lesser-regarded (at least back home), Europa League. Manchester United were harshly denied against probably the most in-form team in the world, the mighty Real Madrid, whilst Arsenal bravely battled the Bavarian giants of Bayern Munich, after both Chelsea and Manchester City, for the second year running, failed to advance from the group stage. So just why should English fans actually pay an interest in the Champions League? Here’s why…
1. Different Teams Competing in the Quarter Finals
Instead of the norms, we saw the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Malaga, Galatasaray and Paris Saint-Germain all progress from the groups, teams who 5 years ago wouldn’t have dreamed of such a situation. Sure for the latter three, this is purely down to a bit of extra cash being thrown about from lucrative owners, a situation which means that Malaga are actually banned from the Champions League next season due to their financial woes. But whilst it’s a big help, monetary gain doesn’t equal guaranteed cup success,just look at Man City, two seasons in Europe, two early exits, this season being beaten out by Dutch champions Ajax to last place, and it took Chelsea long enough to finally secure their title last year didn’t it!
However, money isn’t the route of all this success. Whilst PSG may have been able to snap up Zlatan Ibrahimvic and Thiago Silva, Galatasaray, Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, and Malaga, to a lesser extent, Jeremy Toulalan and Joaquin, Borussia Dortmund have done it the right way. Since the inauguration of Jurgen Klopp as team manager in 2008, a plan had been put in place to return the club to the higher echelons of the Bundesliga, and it certainly paid off. Youth was given a chance, whilst a passing style and work ethic to rival that of the Catalan giants Barcelona, was initiated. Players like Mario Goetze and Nuri Sahin were developed, whilst the club’s extensive scouting network, found cheap gems in Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels.
First the title was won back from the enemy Bayern’s claws, then they did one better doing the double the following season, and now this year, whilst they may be 20 points off the title in the Bundesliga, their Champions League form has been electric, seeing off Real Madrid in the group stage, and tearing apart Shakhtar Donestk in the last round. They are my dark horse for the title this year. Malaga will be delighted to have reached such a stage in a competition, that five years ago, they never would’ve dreamed of entering, Galatasaray will love to have a test against the Madrid giants, whilst PSG will be planning how to take down the mighty Barca.
2. The Best Players In the World
To put it simply and fairly, both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might be the two best players to have ever played the game. Personally, Messi is my favourite player of all time, Ronaldo not even a distant second, with the likes of Pele and Maradona shunning him, but I can see how others feverishly support the preening Portuguese. There’s no doubt he has speed, finishing and heading down to a tee, I’m just not a fan of his boldness, his cockiness, it’s frustrating. Whereas, Messi, for me is the opposite, a modest man, despite the fact he breaks records on a weekly basis, this week scoring in 17 consecutive La Liga games, an all-time record.
Diverting away from that never-ending argument, Barca and Madrid have teams full of wonderful players, Iniesta, Xavi, David Villa, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets for the Catalans, with Di Maria, Benzema, Ozil, Sergio Ramos and Casillas the supporting cast for Los Blancos, whilst Jose Mourinho is a star in his own right. Then the stars of Bayern, Dortmund, PSG and Juve on top, and the cast is as starry as it’s ever been. Sure we miss out on the Premier League’s stars, but we see them every week as it is! Plus, and whisper it quietly, but I believe the Prem’s star power has been on the decline for the past couple of years, as average players gain higher wages and command bigger transfer fees, the more and more unique skills have been hidden away as mediocrity takes charge.
3. The Final is at Wembley
Yep just a couple of years since the 2011 final saw home favourites Manchester United taken apart by the imperious Barcelona, UEFA has decided that everything surrounding the final was so successful it wants in on it again. This most likely means they made huge profits off the back of 2011, so want to have a similar result, which says it all about modern day football. However, ticket prices are cheaper than the last time Europe’s roadshow came to town, with it costing £60 and upwards, which when in comparison to other sports and even the price of a ticket in the Championship (£30 for a ticket to Derby County anyone?!), is really not bad at all. It’s a positive step forward, and hopefully one that others in the industry take notice of. Plus, this is likely to be the last final of such stature to be held in this country for a while, so we may aswell make the most of it!
4. The Surviving Englishman
Yes we still have some invested English interest in proceedings! Of course returning veteran David Beckham, the brand, has added Paris to his list of mega-cities he has played in. Whilst he may only be restricted to substitute cameo roles these days, the fact is, he may play against Leo Messi, a brilliant prospect. Much criticism has hit D-Beck since his move to the French capital, saying he’s past it and only in it for the money, a fact shot down by the revelation his entire 6-month pay packet is going to charity, but at 37, and as a squad member, he is more than able enough to perform roles in the squad. PSG need a goal in the last 10 minutes? Bring on Beckham for his trademark free-kicks and corners, it’s logical enough! I was going to stretch this segment out to include referees…but I won’t.
And Finally 5….It’s the Champions League!
It’s the best club competition in the world, and, for some, better than the bi-annual international tournaments held every other summer for quality, passion, skill, you name it. It’s provided some great moments over the years, with the El Clasico semi-finals, the resolve of Chelsea and Fernando Torres in last years semi, not even mentioning the Didier Drogba winner which allowed Chelsea and Roman Abromovich to achieve their long-standing obsession with the trophy. They offer excitement that’s unrivalled in the modern game.
At first look, the quarter finals look a bit off, but trust me there are some crackers. Barcelona-PSG threatens to see which side of the Catalans turns up, the ones who so catastrophically failed against arch-rivals Real recently, or the ones who battered AC Milan in their 4-0 victory at the Nou Camp. PSG, the newboys, will be hoping to give their prized man Zlatan Ibrahimovic, something to laugh about on his return to Barca. Bayern Munich-Juventus, looks a cracker, two teams who haven’t ruled Europe for a while, but have the tools to do so. Pirlo. Robben. Ribery. Gomez. Buffon. And that’s just the start. Malaga-Borussia Dortmund may be slightly over-balanced, but Malaga will have the confidence to go out with a bang, knowing this is their last chance in Europe’s premier competition whereas this could be the fruition of all of Dortmund’s hard work. The only game that looks like being processional is Galatasaray-Real Madrid, but with Sneijder and Drogba to battle with, aswell as the hellish home crowd back in Turkey, Mourinho’s men shouldn’t take it for granted that they’re already in the semi’s. Semi-finals which promise to be very good indeed. An all German clash between Dortmund and Bayern? Another El Clasico showdown, for the 7th and 8th times this season alone?!
We shall see, but all that is for certain, English teams or no English teams, that Champions League will continue to thrive regardless.