The European Champions League
The Champions League is the biggest competition in club sport. The Final was watched by 360,000,000 people last year, more than three times as many as sat through the Superbowl.
Football is big business worldwide, and the European club teams are supported far beyond their borders. It’s not just in North America where you’ll see people wearing the shirts of the big teams in La Liga, the Bundesliga and the EPL. When visiting China, India, or even Cambodia you’ll see Manchester United players on billboards advertising beer or other products.
The Champions League runs on a similar basis to the World Cup, with a Group stage giving all qualifiers a few games, before the top half of clubs move on to a knock out stage.
British Regulars In The Champions League
Manchester United used to be runaway favorites. That’s partly because they have a massive international fan base who will bet on them and shorten the odds, but largely because that giant fan base provides them with a huge budget, allowing them to buy great players and maintain a large squad.
A large squad is important for a club in the Champions’ League, as the games take place during the regular season. Manchester United can expect to be playing in the English Premier League, the FA Cup and the League Cup alongside the Champions’ League. Having players to rotate in and out so everyone gets a rest, is important.
Arsenal have suffered the indignity of being knocked off several top spots. Without funds flowing through from foreign “business men” with questionable tax practices, Arsenal have focused on being financially stable, and trying to run the football club with the revenues it earns. That does mean that some really exciting youngsters come through their academy system, but they don’t splash out on big names.
Manchester City have recently “earned” a place as regulars. Cynics may say their owner bought them a place, but no more so than any other club in this league. Money talks, and it’s great to see wonerful players from around the world playing every week in England.
Chelsea are always looking to win the Champions League outright. Chelsea have a bigger budget than some small countries (let’s not worry too much about where the money is coming from), and so with a large, versatile and talented squad they will be looking to win every competition they enter.
Celtic fans get to go to some nice places on their holiday as the only team realistically able to qualify from Scotland’s rather sad league. They can keep all their best players for the Champions League and send out their reserve team for their Scottish Premier League games without worrying. Unfortunately Barcelona or Bayern Munich could send out their boys’ team to beat Celtic’s first team.
Iberian Champions League Regulars
Real Madrid are filled with galacticos – the mega stars of football. Unless any of the matches are struck by meteorites, or invaded by aliens, Real Madrid always look likely to win.
Atletico Madrid playing in the super-competitive La Liga, they know what its like to play teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid on a regular basis. Atletico may not be a lean mean goal scoring machine, but they know how to stop people scoring and it’s a truism because it’s true “great strikers win games, but great defenses win leagues”. That said, they do have strikers on the squad to score a few too.
This is Barcelona’s competition. There are no foreseeable circumstances in which Barcelona won’t progress to the knockout stages, with Lionel Messi as MVP. If Will Smith is in some way unable to save the Earth from aliens, rogue viruses or meteor strikes then I will concede that they may not win every year, but if the competition is still running, they’ll be winning in decades to come.
Benfica have a history, winning the Champions League twice, but I tend to forget that was in 1961/2. I still love to see them do well, Lisbon is such a lovely city. Sporting, their city neighbours and rivals are usually in with a shout too.
Porto are previous winners and have a habit of outperforming their budget. They also come from the same city as Port, and I am partial to a fortified wine.
German Champions League Contenders
Bayern Munich are the best club team in the world. They win. Bayern’s combination of organised efficiency and incredible flair look unbeatable, certainly in a League format.
Borussia Dortmund lost a recent final to Bayern Munich. They don’t have the budget or the international revenue that teams like Munich, Paris or either of the Manchester clubs can boast, but they do have a solid, efficient, workman like approach to winning games, and it pays off.
Schalke 04 are not blessed with big names or a big budget, but the Bundesliga is the most competitive in Europe right now, and any team qualifying from Germany does so on merit.
Perhaps Bayer Leverkusen over achieved recently, but if so, what’s to stop them doing it again?
The Best Goals of the Champions League
Champions League Contenders From The Rest Of Europe
Paris St-Germain have spent so much money recently that it’s difficult to see them doing anything other than winning some games. I’d rather like them to, not because of the cash, but because it would give me more opportunities to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic play, he takes the art of football to a whole new level.
I suspect Olympiakos and Anderlecht will be in the “also-ran” categories for many years to come. Greeks would certainly like to see Olympiakos progress, if only for the foreign currency that progression would bring.
CSKA Moscow stay out in the cold. Poor Viktoria Plzen will be working hard not to lose too heavily as other teams tend to see them as the easy route to a great goal difference. Zenit St Petersberg are fun to watch, and with Hulk and Arshavin in their line up, I wouldn’t rule them out completely.
Austria Wien – oh dear. Vienna is a beautiful city. The Cathedral is an absolute treat, do take the tour of the crypt, it’s fascinating. Don’t forget to sit in the square and have a lovely slice of Sacher Torte and a Vienese coffee. I suspect visiting fans will have a much better time in Vienna than Wein’s fans will have at the football.
Silvio Berlusconi’s AC Milan will be happy to celebrate with a bunga bunga party, whatever that might be. Unfortunately for AC Milan Berlusconi isn’t allowed to legislate outside Italy, so he can’t pass a law preventing people from beating AC Milan, and people are on the look out for referee nobbling.
Ajax are fun to watch. Juventus and Inter Milan are always a treat. Inter Milan’s past glories may be all they have.
Galatasaray have spent a lot of money in recent years. Many of their players are no spring chickens, but wily old birds with a lot of talent, and Wesley Sneijder still has the legs and the moves to turn a game. That money buys them a shot.
I love Copenhagen. Copenhagen is a lovely city to visit. Denmark is a remarkable success as a State, Copenhagen has a great history. Copenhagen produces great literature, films and TV. What Copenhagen hasn’t got is a great football team. Their first team players would struggle to get a game in Real Madrid’s reserves.