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He puts in a heroic performance every week on this site, drawing “Shit Shot Mungo”, but Twohundredpercent’s artist in residence, Ted “The Neck” Carter, has worked himself up into an impotent fury over what he sees as the desecration of the European Cup. There is plenty more Ted The Neck here. Today’s YouTube match, by the way, features Watford beating Arsenal 4-2 in November 1982.
When writing something for someone else’s blog, it’s usually best to keep things factual, balanced and objective. Otherwise, there’s a danger that your personal feelings or opinions will be absorbed into the prevailing orthodoxy, which risks confusing or alienating your host’s regular readership. So at this stage, I should like to point out that this is very much my opinion and does not necessarily represent the normal editorial line of twohundredpercent.net. However, it has to be said that the UEFA Champions’ League is stupid and useless and needs to be spayed.
This season’s semi-final match between Manchester United and Arsenal will be the ninth time in the 53-year history of the European Cup competition that a last-four game has been contested between two clubs from the same league as each other. The initial two – in 1959 and 1960 – saw the defending champions Real Madrid facing off against Atletico Madrid (runners-up to Real in 1957/58) and then FC Barcelona, champions in 1958/59. Tellingly, however, the next seven incidences of an intra-country contest have all been in the last decade: 2000 (Valencia vs. Barcelona), 2002 (Real Madrid vs. Barcelona), 2003 (Milan vs. Internazionale), 2005, 2007 and 2008 (Liverpool vs. Chelsea) and then this year’s Manchester United-Arsenal game. In four of those (including three of the last four (2003, 2007 and 2008)), the other semi final featured a further team from the same country’s league. Whilst in 2007, Milan amusingly defeated opposition from three Premier League clubs, 2000, 2003 and 2008 all saw a one-country European Cup final.
Whilst it could conceivably be argued that this success a good sign for English football (and even this is something of a stretch), it doesn’t half suck the magic out of what used to be a dazzling competition. It’s not (for once) the Premier League’s fault, either. UEFA’s continuation of the absurd (absurd) format where virtually every team who didn’t get relegated from the top flight in England, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and Germany get fast-tracked to the quarter finals whilst the national champions of Norway, Northern Ireland and Cyprus are all knocked out of Europe by the 16th of August is just asking for this sort of thing to happen, and as we have already seen, it does just that.
I am 29 years old. I’m probably of the last generation of English football supporters who remember the post-Heysel ban for English clubs and the mysterious and exotic world of the old knockout European Cup, contested by the league champions from all over the continent. For me, names like Panathanaikos, Benfica, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Spartak Moscow or Paris-Saint-Germain are still magical. They probably shouldn’t be. If I were inclined to, I could watch any of Europe’s previously mythical and wondrous clubs play umpteen times every season. Come the World Cup, far from having a flickering picture of a bloke you last saw play 4 years ago only with added big sideburns and a handlebar moustache, you now know that they are the third-choice left back for Schalke 04. Instead of David Coleman delivering a commentary so tinny you could earnestly believe that somewhere in the English channel you’d find a piece of string pulled taut and headed towards Broadcasting House, imperiously pronouncing that the squat, hairy central midfielder plays “for the Honved club of Hungary”, you remember the action replay of him in a dead rubber that season’s UEFA cup first group stage, copping a football to the danglers.
I’m not suggesting that English clubs should give everyone a chance. I just think that UEFA should. European football should be charismatic, bewitching, enchanting. What it is becoming is a matter of routine, where the same clubs play one another time and time again. We’re not far off having a European Club Champion who manages to achieve the feat without even leaving their country of origin – and I think that it’s terribly sad.
Sad maybe. I yearn for the days when a game against Juventus would be a treat, because they were the team that boasted Zidane, Del Piero and Davids, and the plucky David May, Nicky Butt and Jordi Cruyff would pit their wits against them. But all that’s happened is that the Italian teams, the Portuguese and Spanish teams, are now getting their chance aginst the best teams in Europe instead – and they just happen to be the English ones. Why can’t we just accept the fact that English teams have the ascendancy at the moment? It won’t last forever, and just like the years 1986-98, we’ll miss it when it’s all gone! And won’t it be more exciting when a team from another country does it on merit rather than through manipulation of the competition’s format?
All competitions are diminished in quality by adding teams–the World Cup from 16 to 24 to 32, etc. The Champions League should be for champions–not runners up, not third or fourth place. But the money men will continue to cheapen and demean these competitons as long as they’re allowed. Which is the same reason you have 30-year-old professionals playing in the Olympics. It’s all a crock of s**t.