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The 'Champions' League - the new League Cup?

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Another Champions League group stage, another predictable set of results. That is how many football followers feel as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal prepare for the first of six matches that, barring a repeat of the catastrophic form shown by Sir Alex Ferguson's side four years ago, will lead to qualification for the last 16 with the minimum of fuss.


United's ignominious elimination in 2006 remains the only occasion in the previous four seasons that any of the eight clubs drawn from pot one have failed to make it to the last 16. In the same period only nine of the 32 second seeds have suffered an early exit. Such statistics add weight to the theory that the group stage has become an over-hyped spectacle where inflating bank balances, rather than providing genuine competition, is the driving force.


There certainly appears little prospect of genuine competition this time around. With the draw having been so kind to the four Premier League clubs it is tempting to wonder whether their managers will be in a position to treat the competition like the Carling Cup and experiment with line‑ups when qualification has been achieved with a few games to spare. Ferguson has already suggested that Owen Hargreaves might make a return from long-term injury in United's final three group matches.


Much depends on how much importance is given to topping the group and picking up another slice of the financial cake. This season the 32 clubs involved in the group stage will receive £483,000 for turning up for each match and a further £703,000 for victory. Little wonder Europe's premier clubs are happy to continue with a protracted format that leaves most fans wishing they could press the fast-forward button to February, when the knock-out stage begins.


"It is getting a bit like [a procession], but that's what they [the big clubs] wanted, I suppose," said Frank Clark, the vice-chairman of the League Managers Association, and a European Cup winner as a player with Nottingham Forest in 1979. "The competition grew and grew at the behest of the big clubs, who didn't want to take the chance of being knocked out in the first round. I'm not one to harp back but it was a real knock-out competition back then. You had to get through a two-legged game or you were out.


"But anything that is prolonged and stretched out into a mini-league makes it more likely that the bigger clubs will get through. That's an inevitable consequence of the way it's set up. Whether that's better or worse is subjective. My own feeling is that it's worse. You find that a lot of games in the group become meaningless. It's the same with the old Uefa Cup, which is now [as the Europa League] a total mish-mash. Both European competitions have been devalued."


Reservations about the group stage have deepened this season because of the calibre of opposition that United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool will face over the next three months. Anyone wanting to place a bet on any one of the four English clubs qualifying for the last 16 will need to put down £20 to win £1, odds that are about as attractive as some of the group games, including the Hungarian side Debrecen's visit to Anfield tomorrow night.


Not that everyone is dismissive of the group stage. The former Liverpool striker Ian Rush argues that the current format affords clubs from smaller countries, like Debrecen, the first Hungarian side to play in the competition for 14 years, an opportunity to improve their revenue streams.


"If you look at it from the point of view of the Hungarian side, they will make a lot of money out of playing Liverpool and reaching the group stages," said Rush, who won the European Cup with Liverpool in 1984. "That will enhance them and give them a chance of being the top club in their league for the next few years and then they have to try to expand on that if they want to be better in the Champions League in the future."


It is an argument, however, that makes the Champions League sound a little bit like a glorified domestic cup competition, at least until the knock-out business begins. Perhaps then we will see United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool getting their hands dirty.


"It's been proved over the last four or five years how strong the English clubs are," said Rush. "You have almost got to be unlucky not to qualify for the quarter-finals."



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i couldn't agree more, the CL is fast becoming a very tired and boring competition with so many repeat matches from previous competitions.


it should be streamlined in some way to make it more appealing.


however, with the amount of dosh being thrown around, there will be no hurry to change the cash cow.


about the only thing more boring is watching your baseball team play 162 games in a season and play certain teams 19 times a year.

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on the other hand, if it was a knock out, the games would be seeded, and so we wouldn't meet anyone decent until the quarters anyway, so same crap different day.


With the changes to the qualifying, more 'weaker' teams will get into the CL groups, and hopefully over time, they will develop and become better too.


Also, with the top 10 or so teams, yes they will make it. The italians are in danger of losing their 4 their fourth CL spot to Germany, the spanish only have top 2 teams, with the other 2 CL spots open to other clubs, and for the first time in ages, the English 4 may change next season too.

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Also, gives our players experience in Europe. If we win our next two games, we can blood some kids for the last three and give them european experience before the real thing starts.


With a million odd quid awarded for each win, i dont think playing kids would be the best course of action personally. Especially if we're skint.

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To be honest, I think the decline of Italian football is responsible for this. AC Milan, Juve, Inter or Roma aren't anywhere near the threat they were 5 years ago. There are less "big" teams in Europe now.

Inter are better now outta that lot.

Juve are gaining gradually after calciopol but the other two are f***ed.

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I think its a shame that teams like Ajax, PSV, Bayern, Lyon have lost their shine too.


not quite sure what the fix is, as the game would naturally go that way anyway.


would nice to see a Benfica v Sporting final or something.


seems a world away now with Porto, Bayern and Ajax winning it. remember a young Kluivert scoring the winner?

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