We live in strange times. On the one hand, being poor sucks. Every Bulgarian champion needs a helping hand and a TV payout from UEFA helps, no matter how small. On the other hand, nobody likes Kool-Aid with too much water. Dilution concerns us. Tang leaves a bitter and putrid taste in the mouth. Plus, Europe's elite desire to face off against one another. The aristocracy demands a debutante ball with sufficiently dashing and deep-pocketed suitors. And everybody loves a spectacle of excellence. Which is why I found today's Champions League fixture utterly pathetic.
Here's a quick rundown of how the teams fared in their own leagues last year:
- Manchester City-3rd place EPL,
- Villareal-4th place La Liga,
- Napoli-3rd place Serie A,
- Bayern Munich-3rd place Bundesliga,
- CSKA Moscow-2nd Place Russian Premier,
- Trabzonspor-2nd Place Turkish Super Lig,
- Lille-1st Place France Ligue 1,
- Inter-2nd Place Serie A,
- FC Basel-1st Swiss Super League,
- Otolul Galati-1st Place Romanian Liga I,
- Benfica-2nd Place Portuguese Primeira Liga,
- Manchester United, 1st Place, English Premiership
- Dinamo Zagreb-1st Place Croatian Prva HNL,
- Ajax-1st Place Dutch Eredivisie,
- Real Madrid - 2nd Place La Liga, and
- Lyon-3rd Place France Ligue 1.
Did you notice the distinct lack of first places? Only 6 of those 16 teams were "Champions" of their domestic league. We can surely agree that fact is problematic. Well, I have a few ideas on how to solve that problem.
First, and easiest, we could always just simply re-name the "Champions League." For example, the "Champions, near Champions, and friends of Champions League" has a nice ring to it. We could even stretch the definition of the term "Champion" to include teams that have won domestic cups, like Real Madrid and Manchester City last year. However, I argue against this on practical grounds and in principle.
In a nutshell, coming off a recent global economic recession, it's simply a waste of money to ask the proud and dignified Champions of Romania, Otolul Galati, to, for example, fly a team to Madrid to play a group game against a second place team. The carbon footprint from European competitions has got to be horrific. If anything, the true Champions, Otolul Galati, Lille, Ajax, Dinamo Zagreb, Manchester United, and FC Basel, should have a month long spa resort/futsal kick about in a Swiss Alps resort town. Champions deserve rest. And coddling.
This is the point where you scream about European integration and economic redistribution. Blah. Blah. Blah. If you want to run an elite club competition, you have to exclude the riff-raff. Augusta National does not have blank membership applications in the lobby. I understand that trimming the fat may hurt the perpetual third and fourth place teams, but will anybody really miss watching Robin Van Persie getting injured in the quarterfinals? And I'm sure, even without the Champions League TV money, Arsenal can milk some new real estate deal to make ends meet.
And here's an even crazier idea. What if, to protect players' health by reducing games, the Champions League was truly only champions and went straight to an NCAA style home-and-away elimination tournament? The mouth waters at the prospect of a heated, passionate, do or die clash between FC Basel and Dinamo Zagreb as early as October! The TV ratings would surely shoot through the roof. And Barack Obama's bracket could be the PR olive branch to finally re-energize Nuclear disarmament talks with Russia.
Now, I know your response. Even the Olympics has a pity-party at the end and allows 2nd & 3rd place to stand on a podium with the Champion and show off their ugly-colored medals. We could easily arrange a similar event in this "True Champions League." At the closing ceremony after the very last game, the second and third place teams could have their own exploding ticker tape/photo-shoot op. Granted, the ticker tape color would vary based on placement. For the Champions, they'd get a proud color like purple or gold. For the other places, they'd receive something hideous like magenta or fuchsia.
Of course, I wouldn't watch the losers flaunt their not 1st place medals, but I'm sure somebody would.