Why the Champions League is more important than ever

Frank Lampard Champions League 2012

The Premier League isn’t the only competition celebrating a double decade anniversary this year as 1992 also marked the evolution of the European Cup into the Champions League. The notorious European contest has since established itself as the pinnacle of domestic achievement, with Chelsea’s triumph in Munich attracting an audience of over 300 million worldwide.

Arsene Wenger endured a barrage of criticism when he suggested that the fourth and final Champions League spot was akin to obtaining a trophy, but his statement merely highlighted the growing significance of this prestigious tournament. What was once the icing on the cake is now a minimum requirement for football’s elite and here’s why:

Money, Money, Money

The popularity of the Champions League, from a club’s perspective at least, is largely down to the extensive financial rewards on offer. Uefa hands out a series of six figure sums during the group stages, before further boosting participant’s bank accounts with performance bonuses and a sizeable slice of television revenue.

Chelsea’s route to glory last season earned them an incredible £47million and that’s without incorporating income from merchandising, sponsorship and ticket sales. Even Manchester United and Manchester City collected a creditable £28million and £21million respectively despite crashing out in the group stages. When you consider Atletico Madrid picked up a total of £8.5million for going to the trouble of winning the Europa League, you begin to understand why clubs prioritise qualification above all else.

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Attracting The Very Best

The success of English clubs in Europe since that memorable night in Istanbul has sparked a flurry of world-class individuals making their way to the Premier League. Nowadays teams cannot hope to attract the very best from abroad unless they can offer premium European football, which is also the reason why many players to try to engineer a move onwards and upwards from within the division.

Luka Modric highlighted his desire to play in the Champions League as one of the key motives for wanting to leave North London and perhaps he would have been replaced at Tottenham by Joao Moutinho had Chelsea not effectively relegated them to the Europa League. Chelsea have certainly put their prize money to good use through the purchase of Eden Hazard and Oscar, who have both been hailed as the next generation of exciting talent.

Maintaining Status

It’s no secret that Roman Abramovich regarded success on the European stage as his ultimate objective. In fact it’s perhaps the main motive for his succession of managerial sackings throughout his tenure at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho departed after failing to beat Rosenburg, Andre Villas-Boas effectively sealed his fate with a demoralising defeat in Napoli while Avram Grant had his contract terminated just three days after losing on penalties in the 2008 final. For foreign owners, of which there are an increasing number in English football, regular nights out in Europe are the minimum expectation when they plough significant funds into a football club.

Liverpool’s recent fall from grace has been made substantially more difficult to recover from thanks to their continued exclusion from the Champions League. The club have paid the price this year for their exuberant spending spree under Kenny Dalglish and a failure to recoup even a fraction of their outgoing funds. To put their achievements into perspective, the prize money for their victory in the League Cup totalled a measly £100k.

Liverpool’s demise, if you’ll excuse the over-dramatical use of the word, has effectively signalled the end of the fabled ‘big four’ and helped to create a far more competitive edge at the summit of the Premier League. This season sees perhaps six or seven teams with both the strength and depth required to force their way to the top. The ever increasing transfer fees and wage demands coupled with the new Financial Fair Play regulations means qualification for the Champions League has never been more important.

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