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Should We Still Rate the UCL?

Watching the premier competition in European football has become almost painstakingly predictable.

via UEFA.com

The UEFA Champion’s League, since its induction in 1955, has been considered the top trophy in European football. Often compared to the Super Bowl, though it’s debatably much bigger, the competition takes the best from leagues across the continent to compete for the most coveted prize at club football level. Those considered to be giants of the sport have won this trophy on multiple occasions. Synonymous with success and prestige, capturing the title invokes a feeling of deep pride within the club and its supporters. Or rather, it used to.

The hunger for a Champion’s League trophy has gone from mild to ravenous. With football now a very well-oiled capitalistic machine, these teams are seemingly willing to stop at nothing to obtain it. Look no further than recent transfer windows for proof. Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid from Manchester United in 2009 was arguably the catalyst for their success in the UCL. It was the most expensive transfer at the time, priced at €94 million. That figure became almost laughable in 2017, when Neymar transferred from FC Barcelona to PSG for a staggering €222 million. Cristiano went on the move again, this time to Juventus in 2018, with the objective being to do what he did at his former club, to win the cup.

Neymar at his PSG presentation, via Sky Sports 

Those moves are just a few in the ongoing trend of clubs poaching players in the hopes of creating super teams that are essentially unbeatable. Manchester City, Manchester United, FC Barcelona, and PSG have all spent over €1 billion in transfers since 2010 to bring stars like Kevin De Bruyne, Paul Pogba, Philippe Coutinho and Kylian Mbappe into their already talent riddled sides.

via CIES Football Observatory

The sources of the funding behind these powerhouse clubs may come as a surprise to some. NBA superstar Lebron James recently invested in Liverpool FC, which is owned by Fenway Sports Group, an American company. American billionaire James Pallotta, along with three other countrymen, acquired co-ownership of AS Roma in 2011. Perhaps most notably, Qatar Sports Investments became the owners of Paris Saint Germain in 2011, making the club one of the richest in the world. These “new money” teams, combined with that of old money, have created a major imbalance in their domestic leagues as well as the continental cup.

Over the past decade, only a handful of clubs have been able to clinch titles. Juventus has won Serie A for the past seven years consecutively. La Liga has fallen to either Real Madrid or Barcelona for ten years, aside from Atletico Madrid’s win in 2014. Bayern Munich has won the Bundesliga since 2012, and PSG has done the same in Ligue 1, apart from losing it to Monaco in 2017. 

These teams also tend to perform well in the Champion’s League, with Real Madrid winning historically three times in a row since 2016. It’s a common belief among football fans that leagues lack importance and competitiveness if they’re won repeatedly by one or two teams, which is why the Premier League is still the most respected by far. With that notion, what makes the Champion’s League any different?  

Highlights of the UCL 2018 Final between Real Madrid and Liverpool 

For casual spectators, and those who would bleed for their clubs, the UCL has become predictable. You can almost always tell which teams are going to comprise the knock out stages. But how could you not? How can a team like AEK Athens hope to stand against a team like Bayern Munich, how can BSC Young Boys hope to make it out of a group with Man Utd, and Juventus? The competitiveness of the tournament has seemingly been sucked out, leaving the same cast of teams in contention for the trophy every season. 

It appears as if the only solution to this problem is to build a time machine, and go back prior to 2010, before the time when spending outrageous sums on players was seen as the norm. From 2000 to 2010, seven different teams won the Champion's League. From 2010 to now, only four has done so. Should the trend currently seen in the transfer windows continue, how many would win in the 2020's? Would we see two winners over the course of that decade? One? 

Unfortunately, we can't go back. With that being said, maybe the rumored Euro Super League isn't that bad of an idea. The title race in domestic leagues, and in the UEFA Champions League would undoubtedly heat up with the removal of these "giant" clubs. Though, with their absence, sponsorship and other means of funding will surely fall through. For now, it seems European football fans are stuck in a cycle of same-team victories, much like the time loop Bill Murray experiences in Groundhog Day. We will only be freed when, like Bill, our clubs change their ways for the better. 

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