The Champions League has produced some classic, top quality games this season, it always does, but like the F.A Cup, it produced a poor final that left me feeling that neither side really deserved to win it and wondering whether it is time for a change to the whole format of the competition.
The Champions League is based on a false premise. It is neither a league nor is it played out exclusively by Champions. Ooops! In recent years, with the encouragement of UEFA, it has become a kind of unofficial European super league, where by and large the same big sides compete each season for the trophy through what at times seems like an endless series of games.
It is often said to be the pinnacle of the European game. But watching this year’s final it was hard to believe that either of these sides is anything than above-average league sides that somehow lucked out against better teams to progress. Frankly, it was crap; one side intent of defence and the other lacking penetration without a top rank striker. Yawn. The sheer amount of terrible crosses and wasted set plays was indicative of the low level of quality present.
Because the competition starts with an endless group stage which often leads to a couple of meaningless games after sides have qualified and because there’s over a two months break in the winter, it ends up feeling like two separate competitions, which succeeds only in fragmenting the competition.
Add to that the fact that up to four sides from each country enter it, sides which are, in the case of the EPL, between 10 and 30 points apart in class, and you end up with a tournament which just isn’t a “Champions” League plain and simple.
It exists in the current form in order to maximise TV revenues for the clubs and to give the TV stations a ton of games to show. And yet, like the UEFA cup, the early stages of the competition often attract less than capacity crowds and are becoming less and less interesting as the same sides usually progress anyway. Yes, there can be good games but they are few and far between.
If the Champions League were more properly called the Champions Cup and was an actual cup competition played out by the winners of each European league, as it used to be, then its credibility would be unimpeachable. As it is, it is falling between two stools. It’s not a Euro Super League but it’s not a cup competition between champions either. Because of that it feels fake at its core. It is a contrived hybrid designed to be an income generator rather than a great competition.
With crowds falling for early rounds and the eventual winners playing grindcore defensive football, how much longer will the competition be allowed to continue in the existing format? It already looks tired and worn out. A change is needed. And soon.
John Nicholson writes each week for Football 365 and EPL Talk. You can listen to John’s wonderful stories on episode 30 and 45 of the EPL Talk Podcast, as well as purchase his excellent Footy Rocks book and order one of his unique rock’n roll T-shirts.