Why is the Champions League such a priority?

Champions LeagueAsk a football fan “Which would you prefer to win, the Premiership or the Champion’s League?” and there will often be uncertainty over a question which should be very straightforward. Managers have lifted titles and then been sacked before over not winning the Champion’s League. I’m aware that it’s viewed as the best club trophy in the continent but how can it take preference over national domination? A lot of focus these days goes not on the title race but instead on the battle to qualify for the Champion’s League or the battle to stay in it.

For me one is much more important than the other. Financially useful though it is, the Champion’s League is a glorified competition where the best team often doesn’t win which cannot usually be said of a domestic league. Did Liverpool deserve to win in 2005? In terms of tactically outmanoeuvring teams to exploit the way others play to win it then maybe, yes, but in terms of being the best team? No, not at all. As with any cup competition the Champion’s League allows upsets and, whilst it’s nice to see your team face the best Europe has to offer, it can surely not be anywhere near so rewarding as being the best team over a whole 38 game season? Yet it’s treated that way.

I can understand the importance of qualifying for it for those who won’t mount a title challenge – Tottenham, Man City, Aston Villa, even Liverpool this season – they’re in it for the financial boosts which will help them develop their squad and hopefully become title contenders. But managers have given up on their league performances before just to help them with the Champions League – particularly Rafa Benitez and Liverpool who often put preference into their Champions League campaign and have given up on other objectives previously to maintain it. The domestic league should be heads and shoulders above any other competition in terms of how important it is, that always used to be the old way.

Then there’s the sackings because of it – Roberto Mancini was sacked from Inter Milan for not winning the Champion’s League despite winning the league and domestic cup. Vicente Del Bosque’s contract at Real Madrid was allowed to run down at Real Madrid as he didn’t win a final Champion’s League trophy, despite the massive success he’d previously enjoyed with them. Claudio Ranieri led Chelsea to their highest finish in a long, long time and was sacked for not getting further in the Champion’s League. It seems domestic form can be irrelevant if you don’t perform in a glorified cup. Would a manager be sacked for not winning the FA Cup one year? Why is the Champion’s League a completely different kettle of fish?

I’m not saying that it’s a worthless competition, far from it. But the split allegiances between going for the league and going for the Champion’s League are surprising to see given that football’s all about being the champions of your country. I know I’d prefer to be the best in my country to the winner of a knockout competition of some of the best teams available. In past years the Premiership was a much bigger prize than European glory; now it seems one of the two is good enough or both are imperative for those at the biggest clubs. Why is football shifting to focus on the Champions League? I think the effect it has on domestic form is very negative and, whilst it is entertaining, it should not be taking away from the morality of the Premiership – fielding a weakened team and risking your domestic spot just to be fresh for the Champions League? Ridiculous!