The Champions League is back!
As the behemoth lurches back into action this week there are, once again, three English quarter finalists. This is the fourth time this has been the case in the last five editions of UEFA’s flagship tournament (last season there were only two, Arsenal and Manchester United – and they both went out).
It is becoming, in all honesty, a little dull. At least Tottenham Hotspur, in their first foray into the competition, are mixing up the constituents of the English power block. Their game against Real Madrid is, to my mind, one of only two genuinely exciting ties (the other being Barcelona against Shakhtar Donetsk). This is especially true since Madrid, amazingly, are relative newbies themselves, in this stage of the competition for the first time in seven seasons.
Chelsea against Manchester United is, in truth, a pretty uninspiring prospect – although it does come with the benefit of ensuring there can only be a maximum of two English semi-finalists.
This is not xenophobia. It is not club bias. It is not even anti-United bias (which I learned two weeks ago has a special acronym – ABU, Anyone But United). Like I said, I am happy about Tottenham’s presence (and I’m an Arsenal fan) and I am really looking forward to seeing them play in the Bernabeau tonight, especially now that Bale’s presence has been confirmed. I still think Madrid will go through, Mourinho is too savvy, Ronaldo too devastating and Tottenham’s defence too broken for them to repeat the sort of heroics they, and Bale in particular, managed against Inter in the group stage.
My problem is that it’s all becoming a little too familiar. We now use the tournament as a matrix for gauging the relative strength of Europe’s major leagues. This isn’t right. That’s what the Europa League should be for (what is the Europa League actually for?). The Champions League should be an epic Gladiatorial contest where the best teams in Europe’s many and various leagues face off against each other for the honour of being, for that season only, Europe’s greatest team. Firstly, this is because football is a team game, you play for your team not for your league. Secondly, it’s because that’s what ‘Champions League’ means.
Champion is a singular noun, denoting one supreme individual (or in this case, of course, team). Its plural, thus, denotes a collection of these supreme species. That is what we are being promised.
The dilution of the Champions League to include the top 20% of some leagues (England, of course, being one) is an affront to semantics. It reflects the sort of bullshit society that conservative bureaucrats (like those in charge of football) want to create wherein anyone can be a winner, a champion.
It has, of course, the opposite effect and means that ‘the Champions’ is a group of similar people whose self-perpetuating status of Champion-ness ensures that, in fact, no one else can become one. The group gets shut off and the only way to break in is by spending lots of money you got from elsewhere (Chelsea, possibly Man City) or hoping that one of the Champions (Liverpool) breaks.
The Champions League used to be an exotic delight. Now its like a series of The OC where a bunch of super-rich, super-sexy and/or super-witty teenagers flounce around promising the rest of us what we could, but never will, have. For every Mischa Barton there’s several girls with confidence issues and a propensity for weight-gain and for every Tottenham Hotspur there’s several Stoke Citys.