The Champions League got the final it deserved as Europe’s elite competition continues to deteriorate at a rapid rate as the standard of football and teams fail to befit the riches, razzmatazz and glamour that UEFA bring to the tournament. The group stages have become nothing more than a damp squib and the knockout stages aren’t much better.
It is a grave shame the way the competition has gone and the excitement that we use to see in the 90s and early noughties seemingly is a thing of the past. An era that used to see football clubs go for it ‘hammer and tong’ has now been replaced with sides choosing to play on the side of caution, rather than go out and at them in order to defeat the opponent. I guess that is why the footballing world has fallen in love with Barcelona over the years as they refuse to adopt such an approach and are prepared to play on the front foot at all times, regardless of the opposition. The stubborn approach that Mourinho has ingrained in his football teams over the years has proven the blueprint and model in what most clubs choose to follow and that is why Guardiola’s philosophy needs to be cherished, as playing percentages appears to be most club’s game of choice these days.
It is a real shame a competition, that on paper arguably eclipses that of the World Cup as football’s premier tournament, fails to get the pulses racing throughout. The fact teams are seeded does little for the excitement as most of the top clubs generally have secured their passages to the next phase in the first three games, leaving the rest of the group games stale as teams go through the motions. The away goal rule in football brings out the worst in teams in the knockout stages as too many teams look to park the bus in the second leg, if they are holding onto a slender lead. It all makes for anti-football at the very arena where footballing excellence is supposed to be celebrated, yet has been lost along the way.
I don’t know if UEFA can ever get the tournament back to the level it once was, but something needs to change. Whether it is the reduction of participants in the competition, or simply scrapping of the away goals rule to encourage attacking football, we simply need to restore it to its former glory. We need to curtail the opportunity for anti-football by clubs and reward the teams that are prepared to give it a go during the 180 minutes of a Champions League tie. It is time that the more ambitious attacking teams on the football pitch were given the rewards they deserve for their endeavours, rather than be thwarted by these endless teams who continually choose to park the bus.