So it has begun. Long before any of the major European leagues have kicked off and long before the transfer window is closed, the preliminary round of this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s UEFA ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League kicked off this week. A summer break shorter than normal, bridged by the Euro 2008, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s taken off.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not going to analyze the matches in depth, basically since I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seen a single minute of any of the matches. These rounds donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exactly enjoy a high priority in televised media. Probably for a reason. LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s face it, very few of these teams Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if any Ã¢â‚¬â€œ will make it to the ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League, let alone win it. Naturally, all players dream about playing on the big scene in Europe, about fame and fortune. A miracle that would take their club into the VIP room of European football. It would mean an unforgettable season for the players, the fans, the country, and it would mean a significant boost for the club economy. But, the dynamics of football donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exactly favor teams from the smaller leagues.
How about Llanelli AFC? The Welsh champions made their ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League debut this week, and managed to walk away with a 1 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 0 win over the Latvian champions FK Ventspils. However, despite being the Welsh champions, they are far from the best team in the country. While Llanelli were winning the Welsh Premier League in front of the massive crowd of about 4000, Cardiff was playing the FA cup final in front of 90,000 at Wembley. Llanelli in ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League? I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think so.
How about S.S Murata, the San Marino champions? The Sammarinese football league is ranked 53rd in Europe. Just behind the Andorran. Right ahead of, well, none. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re the last. Their star player is Aldair, the former Brazilian World Champion. Aldair would probably do well in most European teams Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 15 years ago. At age 41 he has probably reached and passed his peak though. To complement the defensive skills of Aldair, Murate aimed to attract former superstar Romario and Michael Schumacher. Romario would surely be able to contribute with his skills and experience in this team. Michael Schumacher, well, would definitely score some PR points, and is surely familiar with San Marino, but isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t he busy doing that Formula 1 thing? With a five goal deficit from their home match against Swedish champions IFK GÃƒÂ¶teborg, they will need to recruit the all-star team of Europe to turn this around. Murata in ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League? Nope.
How about Tampere United from Finland? Finland was only a goal away from qualifying for this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s European Championship. They began their road to glory by defeating the Montenegrin champions FK Buducnost Podgorcia. A 2 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 1 win is fragile, but the Finns should be able to advance. Finland has provided European leagues with a number of quality players over the last couple of decades, but when it comes down to pulling it together as a team and take that final step they choke. Maybe this time, depending on who they face in the next round, and the round after thatÃ¢â‚¬Â¦no, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s too far-fetchedÃ¢â‚¬Â¦UEFA Cup, maybe. Tampere United in ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really see it happening.
How about IFK GÃƒÂ¶teborg then, the two time UEFA Cup champions? With a 5 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 0 win away against team from San Marino, they can already start their focus on the next round. The Swedish team is no stranger to the ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League actually. In the mid 1990Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s they enjoyed quite a bit of success, with the highlight winning their group in the 1994-95 edition, ahead of Barcelona and Manchester United, losing out to Bayern Munich only on goal difference in the quarter final. However, that was before the competition expanded to 32 teams, allowing not only the national champions to participate, but also the runner-ups of the best European leagues. Could they make it to the group stages again this year? Being Swedish, I hope so. Being realistic, probably not.
So, is this an article about making fun of the little clubs? Or an article complaining how elitist and money-oriented the game has become? Or a prediction on the outcome of this seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League? No, none of the above. You can call it the food chain. At the end of the day the champion will be named Barcelona, Juventus, Chelsea, or one of their European likes. They will eat the clubs like Lyon, Fenerbace, PSV Eindhoven, Celtic; clubs that frequent the group stages of ChampionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s League, but never make it all the way. These clubs in turn will feast on the next layer of the cake; the clubs that visit the tournament rather often, but only occasionally win a match once theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re in, clubs such as Anderlecht, Sparta Prague, or Rosenborg. These middle-class clubs will in most cases Ã¢â‚¬â€œ due to their experience with European football Ã¢â‚¬â€œ knock out teams that are almost there but not quite; clubs from Denmark, Romania, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. And so it goes on to all the way to the bottom of the food chain where the champions of Andorra, Faeroe Islands, Luxembourg, San Marino, Lichtenstein, etc will keep dreaming of maybe one day scoring a goal against a decent-sized European club. The UEFA food chain may not be the ideal solution, but it gives every team a theoretical chance of getting a glimpse of the fame and glory that is out there. It may not be up for grabs for everyone, but the hunt for this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s European trophies has now officially started
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