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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for Forbes.com and Soccerly.com and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


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Champions League – Barcelona The Only Real Champion Left

Written by on April 26, 2011 | 14 Comments »
Posted in UEFA Champions League

One of the on-going debates, as it relates to the Champions League, is the admission of teams that did not win their domestic title.

There is a lot to be said for the simplicity of the old format.

A team having won their championship went into the hat along with other like sides and after four rounds of two-leg knock-out play we were left with two teams playing in a winner take all final normally at a neutral venue.

Clean and easily understandable what could have been better?

From the clubs point of view quite a lot. In the nineties the clubs were no longer willing to accept a competition in which the winner of the Icelandic league was granted a place in the premier club competition while the runners-up from Spain, England, Italy, Germany etc were excluded.

Once a decision was made to allow non-champions to join champions there was no turning back although the last two seasons we have seen more places reserved for teams that had actually won their domestic title.

Over the previous five seasons the number of champion teams making it to the final four have never exceeded 50%.  In fact even 50% has been a struggle – 2006 Barcelona, 2007 Chelsea, 2008 Manchester United, 2009 Barcelona and Manchester United and 2010 Barcelona and Inter.

This year we have Barcelona as the only team of the final four to have also won their league last season with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Schalke 04 all finishing as runners up.

In terms of domestic performances this season Barcelona and Manchester United are odds on to win La Liga and the Barclay’s Premier League. If either does, and goes on to also win the Champions League, it will be the 24th time the European Cup/Domestic Title double has been accomplished in 56 seasons.

What is worth noting is that it will be the 5th time in the last six seasons such a feat has been achieved – only Milan in 2007 will have failed.

At the other end of the spectrum there is a bit of a tradition of European Cup winners and poor domestic performances – Schalke 04 will be hoping to continue that tradition given that they are sitting 10th in the Bundesliga and are only 8 points above the relegation zone.

The three worst domestic performances by a European Champion all came under the “old” domestic champions-only format. Aston Villa finished 11th in the English First Division when they won the European Cup in 1982; Bayern Munich 10th in the Bundesliga in 1975; and Juventus 6th in 1985.

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14 responses to “Champions League – Barcelona The Only Real Champion Left”

  1. Soccerlogical says:

    Bobby – If I suggest that Kaka at his best is more beneficial to the overall “team play” of Madrid than Ronaldo, would I be accused of ingesting something from Charlie Sheen’s medicine cabinet?

  2. markE_marc says:

    The UEFA Champions League should just change its name to something more fitting. The CHAMPIONS part loses its merits when 2nd, 3rd & 4th place teams qualify but i think those teams deserve to be in the competition. I say keep the format but just change the name. However if u want the Champions league name to hold its merit then maybe the winner of the domestic cup should also get a spot too since they are also champions. If a team wins the domestic double then grant that vacant spot to the champion of another country. Theres plenty of countries in europe so they will never run out. Unfortunately, if you support the tournaments name, then the level of competition falls. The point of the the Champions League is to have the best teams in europe fight it out. Whose to say that just because your a champion of a lower league, it automatically makes you better than a 2nd,3rd, or 4th placed team from a top league. Maybe they should play each other & find out?Also, sometimes these non-champion teams end up beating their own league champions or other league champions during the CL. For example this year Man U beat Chelsea & Shalke beat Inter Milan. It has happened a good amount of times already so these non champion teams have proven they can hang with & beat the best.So just change the name if it bothers u so much because i want to continue to have the best teams in the tournament. That way no one can complain about teams who are not champions in a tournament called the CHAMPIONS league.

  3. John Bladen says:

    I have always longed for the days when only Champions (not necessarily of leagues only, domestic cups etc could also have been included) were eligible to play in the champions league.

    But the reality is that that format was far less popular (and financially successful) than the present one. We can certainly argue over how many ‘non champions’ should be admitted from each domestic competition, but as you rightly pointed out, the Icelandic or Bulgarian champions cannot reasonably be considered on a higher level than runners up in England, Spain or Germany.

    I would favour a change to give all true champions a shorter path to the final 16, with perhaps all the non champions having to go through more layers of play-ins or qualification. Still, even that has it’s issues as most of the major (and minor) champions will want to play as many high revenue games as possible in the tournament.

    I would also favour a change to the seeding/pairing system that significantly reduces the possibility of two clubs from the same country meeting in the final. If four or five Spanish or English clubs make it to the R16, for example, they should be drawn against each other (regardless of of group history etc) to thin the numbers. It’s always possible that Real/Barcelona will be the best two clubs in the competition, or Man U/Chelsea etc. But I think the game loses something when the final is played between two clubs from any one country.

  4. soccerlogical says:

    So you “long” for the day when the likes of Birmingham and Portsmouth play Barcelona or Madrid in CL…. is that what you’re saying here?

  5. Boris says:

    Well that’s if for Schalke. Down 2:0. It was quite a run though.

  6. John Bladen says:

    Are you suggesting only Birmingham and Portsmouth have ever won domestic cups? You should really think before you post. You’ll look less foolish.

  7. Soccerlogical says:

    I’m stating a fact that garden variety mid table teams with no squad depth who fight to avoid relegation (in various leagues) win cups and would get embarrassed playing in the CL. Not to mention make the CL less competitive and much less entertaining by excluding world class teams who didn’t win the league or cup (yet came in 2nd, etc).. according to your idea.

    The question is, did you think before you posted:

    “I have always longed for the days when only Champions (not necessarily of leagues only, domestic cups etc could also have been included) were eligible to play in the champions league.”

    Only league and domestic cup champions were eligible to play in the Champions League”?

    Seriously, are you Terry Leigh in disguise?
    LOL

  8. Bryan says:

    If only Bayer Leverkusen had beaten Real Madrid in the final a few years ago.
    You would have had the champions league champions who had never been champions of their own country.

  9. Nigel Winterbottom says:

    Commercial considerations will always win the day when so much money is at stake. I don’t see how it can be otherwise.

    From a sporting perspective, I feel that top flight modern teams play too many games in a season and this impacts the overall quality of football. So often team performances are affected by how many injured players are unavailable for selection. The hectic schedules also impose the need for player rotation which impacts upon the quality of many games. I would like to see the number of games reduced dramatically, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

  10. Lord Alfred Hayes says:

    Come on Soccerlogical, don’t be such a hater…….Pompey in the Champions League would be brilliant! Wouldn’t you love to see John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood at the Santiago Bernabéu!

  11. John Bladen says:

    Bryan: Exactly. It is Champions League. What, exactly, is the fourth placed club in the EPL or Bundesliga champion of?

    Nigel: It would be nice to see some of the meaningless fixtures eliminated… but as you say, it’s just money.

    SL: You might want to read the posting guidelines for this property. You don’t seem to understand them, first and foremost, and hiding behind a screen name does not make you anonymous.

    Dilute the CL? Yeah, we wouldn’t want to miss out on any more Cluj v Bayern or Hapoel Tel-Aviv v Schalke fixtures, would we? Limiting the clubs involved to league or domestic cup champions (particularly with the play in rounds still in effect) would greatly reduce the number of runouts for the big clubs reserve squads. It would also, as pointed out, reduce the staggering amounts of money these nothing games generate for UEFA & the member clubs.

    If you think that a Birmingham or Portsmouth group stage tie v Chelsea would be less competitive than this year’s Zilina fixtures, you should think again.

  12. Soccerlogical says:

    Bladen – So you can call me out for “looking foolish” but I can’t contest your view, are those your hypocritical posting guidelines?

    Seems like you get irritated every time you get called out for drivel.

    The likes of Cluj and Hapoel have won their respective domestic leagues on numerous occasions and have beaten or drawn the likes of Roma, Chelsea and Lyon in CL play. Why does your logic dictate that the likes of Birmigham or Middlesbrough who won an irrelevant league cup deserve a spot in the CL over a domestic league winner like Cluj and Hapoel. What next, remove Shakhtar, Dynamo and Anderlecht form CL so Carling Cup or Scottish League Cup winners get a spot?

    Those who appreciate competition and skill would admire the fact that a third or fourth placed domestic league team (from a top league) got to the finals. Whereas you think it’s a misplaced error. Unfortunately, that is your fundamental problem in attempting to understanding the game.

    Sorry but you can’t suck and blow at the same time!

  13. John Bladen says:

    Not my guidelines… the website’s. Which proves you haven’t read them. Please do so. If you do, you will understand the difference between what you do and what everyone else on this site does.

    At no point did I state the league cup, JPT, or Isthmian premier league championship should warrant places in the CL. League champions and major cups only. Please read posts before you criticize them, and please criticize only what the post says (not your (deliberately) flawed interpretation of it).

  14. Lord Alfred Hayes says:

    Bladen you are better off not addressing any points Soccerlogical makes here. His posts either have no relevance to the article (like above talking about Kaka) or are just trying to slam a fellow poster arguing that person is dumb or lacks the understanding of the game he has. People like he are why there are not better discussions on here and that is a shame because many of us are isolated as soccer fans as far as having people to discuss the game we love with. Just ignore him, all regular readers know he is full ot it.

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