The Champions League, it appears, has achieved its ultimate aim – it has made the rich richer and the rest drown in their wake.
This week saw the final round of the tedious group phase of the league. Eight Groups of four …seeded of course to ensure the big teams qualify and as a result the teams from the bigger countries nearly all qualified. In fact 12 of the 16 qualifiers for the next phase came from England, Spain, Italy or Germany. Of the four teams from the “lesser” nations that were successful, only two managed to eliminate a team from one of the big four – Panathinaikos who won their group , knocking out Werder Bremen, and French champions Lyon who finished second ahead of Fiorentina. In fact across the last five years – 40 Champions League groups – only nine times has a club from outside the big four managed to eliminate one from the the rich countries, and five of those times it was German team eliminated – it is now seven years since a German team won the trophy and they have won only two of the last 25 . Germany in fact is sliding towards the status of a lesser football nation, at least at club level.
Except for Ajax (95 & 96), the 2003 final (Porto v Monaco) and Marseilles’ tainted victory in 1993, every final since (16 in all – 32 finalists) has involved 2 teams from the big 4 countries. Compare that to the last 6 finals of the old European Cup which was contested by 7 teams outwith the big 4 and just 5 teams from within.
The ineptly named Champions League has in fact eliminated the very essence of football – the romance. The beauty of football is that the little teams sometimes win. The Wimbledon’s, Reading’s, Chievo’s & Getafe’s of this world need a dream. The very thought that once great teams such as Celtic or Ajax or Steaua Bucharest could once again rule Europe is absurd. The nature of the CL – that the big countries have more qualifiers than smaller countries – ensures their continued success. UEFA use their seeding system to virtually ensure that the status quo remains. Teams are accorded a ranking based on a combination of their own recent results in Europe and a coefficient of their countries results. Hence Hence a relatively inexperienced English or Spanish team will have a good seeding and thus avoid playing the top clubs from the other “big 4” nations.
As the stats above show, if you are drawn in a group with 2 teams from the big 4 you have a less than 25% chance of qualifying, and if those two teams don’t include a German team, you only have a 10% chance. Sure there will still be surprises…Celtic have defeated Milan, Man Utd, Juventus & Villareal in recent times, Porto continue to win games and just this week Aalborg drew at Old Trafford. But those results are becoming increasingly rare. And those clubs simply dont have the finances to build squads with sufficient strength in depth to compete on a regular basis. THe more succesful you are then the more money you will attract and therefore better players you can afford to buy
Of course TV money has contributed to this divide. Canal+, Rai, Sky Sports are more than willing to pay top dollar to cover the top teams – the teams famed throughout Europe for their continued success. In jumping on UEFA’s band wagon the TV companies have ensured that the rich and famous will remain the rich and famous.
Is it any wonder the group stage is so tedious? It takes 3 months to eliminate 16 teams that we all knew would be eliminated when the draw was made.