By John Nicholson
The Champions League returns this week.
It seems to have been away for months. With 5 British clubs involved, at last we’ll see some proper, competitive football games featuring the Premiership big four and Celtic.
The top sides in the domestic leagues are so far ahead in terms of resources and players that both the English and Scottish leagues are only actually competitive when the top sides play a weakened side. If they all played their strongest sides, they’d win or draw almost every game. It’s bloody boring. But the Champions League matches them with more equal opposition and everyone plays their best side.
Liverpool will be sorely tested in Barcelona; Porto will be no push over for Chelsea. Lille shouldn’t be too tough a task for Man United, Arsenal face a tricky tie in Eindhoven but it is at Celtic Park where the home side take on AC Milan that will be the tie of the round. The atmosphere will be the best anywhere in Europe. Loud, passionate and fierce, they will roar on the hoops to overcome the Italian giants. How much more exciting and brilliant than playing, say, Falkirk?
I get the feeling that it’s only the Champions League that really matters to any of the big four in the Premiership. In fact, when you listen to the likes of Arsene Wenger you’d think that domestic football is all just too taxing for his players. He doesn’t want FA Cup replays, he doesn’t want to play his first team in the league cup and there are too many games to play in Premiership apparantly. Perhaps they just don’t want to play football at all. At times it’s like it’s all a terrible chore to them. You’d think his players were made out of bone china as opposed to being athletes the way he goes on about how tired they get and how many injuries they have.
And he’s not alone in this.
Mourinho and Benitez have both complained about similar issues over the past two years and Ferguson all but invented the notion of playing a reserve team in League Cup games or matches against lower placed sides. Celtic are 22 points ahead in the SPL, it just not a proper competition any more. Is it any wonder some fans are growing disillusioned?