There’s a great irony to the UEFA Champions League. It’s by a distance the biggest and most glamorous club competition in the world, it’s winner secures in-between £50-£60 million, players want to play in the competition out of vanity and it’s littered with big name brands, advertisements and sponsors.
Yet despite the 21st-centuriness of it all, the Champions League still makes football supporters giddy inside and retains an old-school element of nostalgia to it, for those of us young enough not to have seen the old European Cup.
While the Premier League and FA Cup bear less and less resemblance to the nineties and noughties every week, Europe’s premier club competition’s only difference to its 2006 self is fewer of the games in Eastern Europe being recorded on a camcorder. On a side note that was weird, wasn’t it? It was as if any game east of the iron curtain was being tuned in via a lad on work experience, fixing the antenna on ITV’s or Sky Sports’ rooftop.
Again ironically, our love for the European centrepiece tournament is surely because UEFA glamorized the 32-team competition before anyone else gave in to the modern-football culture of business deals and globalisation.
At this stage, we’re used to the production of it all, and for young guns like myself, it was always like this for us. We can’t remember anything different.
It’s a big mixing pot with small chunks of nostalgia making up the product. The anthem, it still being bright outside for kick-off by the quarter and semi-finals, the “vital” away goal which would make a 3-1 loss in the first leg still look like a good result, the bald lad from UEFA doing the Friday morning draws and the perennial contestants who never get past the last 16
Y’know. Porto, Marseille, Benfica, Celtic, Schalke, Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Shakhtar Donetsk, CSKA Moscow, Arsenal. The type of teams who are “tricky to play away from home”.
This year, more than any other, seems really mid to late noughties. Liverpool are back in the big time, Roma have a decent outfit, Real Madrid are becoming somewhat likeable or at least tolerable again, and the English teams are boss. They’ll probably be an all English tie somewhere in the quarters considering all the North-West teams and maybe one London side should make it through.
A lot of it depends on what age you are, as does everything in football. But there’s something so special and exclusive about Gazprom, Sony, Ford, MasterCard and Heineken pitch-side sponsorship boards. There’s a reason why all the Champions League’s main financial contributors have never changed down the years. Who would even dream of giving up a sponsorship deal with the tournament, UEFA and all the romantic nostalgia that surrounds European midweek football?
Quick interjection readers, the bald lad from UEFA is apparently now president of FIFA. Gianni Infantino. As you were.
We should appreciate it while it’s around. If there’s one thing that’s certain in 2018, it’s that the people who own football, don’t understand football. Just like the Doctor Who theme song, or the Juventus logo, someday soon the anthem may be changed and 7:45 kick-offs may be scrapped. The Champions League’s sleeve badge will be dismissed for 4 square inches of sponsorship.
Memories last a lifetime though, and when I go up to Heaven, hopefully not anytime soon, I’ll kick back with a Gazprom in hand and watch CSKA Moscow with Gianni Infantino.
All the best.
This article is brought to you by MasterCard, proud sponsors of Liam Divilly’s weekly column.