UEFA Champions League: The Fine Line Between Success and Greatness

Despite their victory yesterday, it is doubtful that Chelsea will go down as one of the best teams in Europe

After Chelsea’s victory last night, the clichés came out in full-force: "Whoever said football was about deserving?" "You create your own luck" and especially, "The ends justifies the means" where popular choices. While some chose to voice their disbelief and displeasure at Chelsea’s landmark win there were others who heralded the tactical nous of manager Roberto Di Matteo and the unity of his players. Arguably, Bayern’s penalty loss yesterday has done more to divide opinion than the handling of the Eurozone crisis – which in itself is rather sad, but getting back to the point, does the end really justify the means? Is Catenaccio experiencing a revival? Is totaalvoetbal’s latest incarnation tiki-taka on the decline? Ultimately there are many questions, but for me this one is perhaps the most appropriate: while all goals count the same, can we say the same about trophies and the manner in which they are won?

In the record books, Chelsea’s win will count exactly the same as any other European Cup win, after all, in this situation numbers are the least objective method of measuring success. A win is a win, and that’s all we apparently need to know, but how can all success be equal? To determine whether a certain club is worthy champion there is a simple test consisting of just one question: who is the best team in Europe?

Sure, it’s objective and yes, it’s open to interpretation, but public opinion is an effective measure of success just as much as the record books are. However, I can guarantee that on this occasion the two measures will provide entirely different answer. Just who is the best team in Europe? Ask 100 football fans that question and the majority of answers will not be Chelsea FC, but instead I predict landslide victories for FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. In fact, it is perfectly realistic to imagine that more people would answer that question with Manchester City than Chelsea.

It seems there is a distinct difference between being the UEFA Champions League winners and the Best Team in Europe.

In fact, this extends to any other competition in the world – a similar poll in 2004 for the best international team in Europe would have yielded few votes for Greece despite their European Championship victory under the guidance of Otto Rehhagel. The record books consider each victory as equal, although it cannot be denied that "attractive" football within a tournament leaves a greater legacy, even if that team does not emerge victorious altogether, while "ugly" teams are oft-forgotten even if they do emerge victorious.

For example, the Brazil team of 1982 is remembered as one of the most exhilarating ever witnessed. The style with which they played attracted so many plaudits – even to the present day – while eventual winners Italy who defeated a strong West Germany team 3-1 in the final have been largely forgotten. Cast your mind back to the 2006 World Cup final; which event did you remember first? Was it the Italian’s eventual win on penalties, or was it the infamous Zinedine Zidane headbutt?

It is within the realms of possibility that success at all costs may count the same, but that it is no-where near as memorable? Looking back over time it certainly seems to be the case.

Then, what about the immediate impact of success? To make this comparison one must look at two separate clubs, both of whom won the UEFA Champions League in recent years, but in contrasting fashion. I present to you Inter Milan and FC Barcelona. This is a Barcelona blog, so I doubt I need to remind you of the Blaugrana’s recent success, but it surely can’t hurt? Under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola Barcelona have won the Champions League on two separate occasions, won their domestic league three times and have been crowned World Champions twice – all thanks to tiki-taka.

On the other hand, Inter Milan under Jose Mourinho won the Champions League once (but overall his success rate with Inter was the same as Pep’s at Barca), and claimed the Serie A twice – all thanks to Jose’s brand of pseudo-Catenaccio.

However, aside from the trophy cabinet of the two clubs, there are few similarities. There are no best-selling books on Inter’s triumphs, while Inter arguably fell into that category of UEFA Champions League winners as opposed to the Best Team in Europe back in 2010. The difference is simply huge. With Barca widely considered the best team in Europe, or at least one of the top two with Real Madrid, the Barcelona brand is by far one of the strongest in the world.

Perhaps it is down to the likes of Xavi, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, but every kid wants to be like them; the majority of players want to play with them. Javier Mascherano took a pay-cut and went on strike to join Barcelona from Liverpool, while Cesc Fàbregas did similar, albeit in different circumstances. Reports have it that David Villa cried when Barcelona signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic over him back in 2010. Not only that, but revenue has been steadily increasing year-on-year for Barcelona, but Inter’s has been fluctuating hugely.

Players that were vital to that UCL win for Inter have also left the club, with Samuel Eto’o the most obvious example. Coincidentally, Didier Drogba is likely to leave Chelsea this summer. The allure of a Champions League winner is undoubtedly strong, but it pales in comparison to the attraction of the best teams in Europe.

So I guess this is congratulations to Chelsea, there is more than one way to win a football match, but I care to argue that there is only one way to become the greatest team in Europe.

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