Whether implied or overtly, the opinion of ‘it was all better before’ is never far away from any discussion on modern football. Through the frame of rose-tinted nostalgia, everything to do with football was superior in past, football being destroyed my one horrible modern change after the other. When it comes to European club football, the biggest bugbear of the past brigade is the concept of the Champions League.
‘A league for Champions where the majority is not even champions!?’
And don’t get them started on the terrible ordeal of the groups stages;
‘Why not make it a straight knock-out? Like before?’
But what if it was really like before? Imagine if UEFA decided tomorrow that their biggest stakeholder is not the big clubs, but yer da, and that they were going to change the Champions League back to its former glory:
Renamed ‘The European Cup’, only league champions will be allowed and there will be none of this group stage nonsense. Here’s what it might look like:
We start off with the 54 league champions (Sorry, Liechtenstein, you’re not getting a representative in this tournament either). We need to get down to 32 teams for a full first knock-out round so in an attempt to placate the big clubs a tiny bit (unlikely to stop them from planning their new, breakaway super league) we give the teams from the top ten nations on the UEFA country ranking a bye into the first round, with the remaining 44 teams drawn against each other. The teams are divided into four seeding groups, with teams from the top group drawn against clubs in the bottom and teams from groups 2 and 3 facing each other. It means a decent draw for Celtic who is sent to Estonia to play FCI Tallinn.
In terms of determining the results for our hypothetical tournament, a club with a co-efficient at least twice as large as their opponent automatically go through to the next round. A random online match generator will decide the other matches.
The only real surprise in the qualifying round is IFK Mariehamn from Finland getting past Maribor, rewarded then with a plum tie against reigning champions Real Madrid in the first round proper. The rest of the teams are all very familiar names for Celtic fans from previous Champions League qualifying stages.
With 32 teams left, we can start the first round, welcoming in the top ten nations. In this round, the top eight ranked teams will be drawn against one of the bottom eight, with the remaining 16 being drawn against each other.
It’s another decent draw for Celtic who face and beat the champions of Cyprus, APOEL, to proceed to the Last 16 for a Battle of Britain game against Chelsea. With so many big clubs from the top five leagues now being placed in the renamed ‘UEFA Cup’ tournament, there are several representatives in the last 16 from countries whose only real goal currently is to get into the Champions League group stages, with league winners from Austria, Romania, Israel and Croatia all in the mix still.
The last 16 games are drawn in the same way as the old Champions League (remember that?) with a group of eight top seeds. It mean easier opposition for the biggest clubs than what they are used to at this stage, something reflected by the results.
Celtic is knocked-out of the tournament, not by defensive mistakes or referring mistakes, but by Scotland having a co-efficient of less than half of England’s (this isn’t real, remember). The random draw of the quarter-final means the first meeting of two clubs from the top five leagues, with Real Madrid facing Juventus.
Having got past Benfica, Chelsea is given the chance to avenge their 2004 semi-final loss to Monaco, only to fall at the merciless will of the random online generator. But even such complex machinery can’t stop Christiano Ronaldo who powers his team to their third consecutive final through pure luck.
In a tense final, Monaco becomes the first French (well, sort of) team to lift the European Cup since Marseille in 1993. With semi-final teams from Spain, England, Germany and France it was a line-up familiar from those glorious Champions League days in the now almost forgotten past.
And with all the top clubs now having broken away from UEFA to set up their own global super league; ‘The MasterCard Coca-Cola Pure Capitalism Invitation Trophy Sponsored by Trump Towers in association with the Glorious Communist Party of China’, there will be plenty of things to complain about for yer da in the future as well.