The Champions League trophy is one of the most coveted for any European Club and has been for decades. Every club in Europe, depending on their stature, is either trying to win it or qualify for the tournament. For a club of Barcelona’s standing however, Barca reaching the semi-finals is the absolute minimum.
Allow me to give you the average fan's perspective on the tournament and that rather odd looking trophy. Firstly, the tournament itself guarantees financial benefits for any club that qualifies for the group stages. To the so-called smaller clubs in Europe qualifying for the Champions League for two or three seasons in a row allows for a huge influx of the moolah, and is the fastest way for said club to improve and ascend to the upper echelon of Europe’s elite clubs increases the appeal of the organization to the very limited pool of emerging world class talents.
To read a full report on the financial distribution for the 32 clubs who qualified for the Champions League last season, check out this link. In brief, 754.1 million Euros were distributed (in total, among all competing clubs), which included a share of the TV-revenue generated by Europe’s governing football body. Obviously, the finalists (Manchester United and FC Barcelona) receive the largest share. Current title-holders, FC Barcelona, "earned" 51.025 million Euro in the past Champions League campaign. But to ascertain how lucrative the Champions League is for the competing clubs we have to look at one of the smaller clubs. Tottenham Hotspur FC for instance generated a total of 31.3 million Euro, a massive financial boost for a club that is looking to break into the top four of the English Premier League and harbours the ambition to challenge for the title. In fact, every club is entitled to a minimum of 7.2 million Euros and although that might seem as a relatively small figure, clubs from outside the big three leagues would welcome the chance to make that kind of money.
Abidal lifting the Trophy - Barça Celebrate CL Win - Wembley 2011 *HD (via C83S87)
Moving on to the bragging rights and increase (or decrease) in stature of clubs who perform well in the Champions League, Arsenal FC serve as a prime example. Nobody denies that Arsene Wenger has taken Arsenal to new heights that have never been reached in hundred odd years of its history prior to the Frenchman’s arrival. However, over the last couple of seasons, in addition to the transfer policy set by the club's board and Wenger, there has been a drop in quality as far as the first team squad is concerned. From the days of Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera to, more recently, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, Arsenal finds itself at the crossroads. At this very moment, - although it’s quite premature to assess - recent results don’t highlight the Gunners as one Europe’s marquee sides (even if Fabregas chooses to live in denial and claim otherwise). For all of you who have a soft spot for the North London side, I don't mean to say that they cannot compete in Europe but rather that, with the current state of affairs, Arsenal and Wenger seem more likely to find themselves fighting for a Europa League spot rather than having a realistic chance of winning the Champions League. With the rather reluctant sales of Fabregas and Nasri, Wenger has set a dangerous precedent for the club and strengthened two of its main competitors for Europe’s top prize, FC Barcelona and Manchester City. The latter, although a Champions League newcomer, must be considered a serious contender, on the strength of their bench alone.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have clubs like Udinese, who are known to develop talent and sell them to help achieve a better financial standing and I can only presume, the idea is to get to a state where they are financially stable and able to compete in all competitions. Taking part in Europe's premier tournament would definitely help increase the rate at which these smaller clubs stabilize their account books. Unlike the Gunners (who seem to be in a crisis), the Italian side, are looking like a club on the ascension to become a top tier club.
Then there are the elite squads, certain clubs that always have high expectations. Already established as the best club sides in Europe, these teams have absolutely no problem attracting the most coveted players in the world. This is reinforced, if one were to believe the rumours connecting pretty much any player in the world to the current European Champions, FC Barcelona (Cahill? Cahill? Who the *beep* is Cahill? And why do people think he's good enough for Barca?). As I'm sure all of you know, at this very point of time (and admittedly since 2006), FC Barcelona are at the top of the food chain. As a Culé, I want to see the team in the finals of the Champions League every year, and once there, I just don't see them losing (not at the level they are in right now). However, Ol' Big Ears is more elusive than that isn't it? So elusive, in fact, that people think it's cursed. Since the current format of the tournament was incorporated, no club has ever won the trophy in consecutive years.
The closest any team has come to retaining the trophy was Manchester United, in the 2008-2009 season. Unfortunately for gum-chewing Ferguson and his all-conquering team, they had to overcome an historical Barcelona side, who were on their way to become the first team (ever) to win all six trophies on offer (within the same calendar year). Even with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and ever-green Ryan Giggs, the Red Devils were completely dominated, besides the first ten minutes of the game. In retrospect they would come to accept that they played against a team that would go on to redefine the beautiful game.
Under the tutelage of a certain Pep Guardiola FC Barcelona, would show the world that a team, largely made up of players from 'La Masia', can not only win, but win in style. The Catalan side has all the qualities required to conquer Europe once again. I think Jose Avila (Senior Editor for BarcaBlaugranes) said it best, "There have been many curses, the curse of Arsenal...gone. The curse of never beating Atletico in the league twice in a year, gone. All that's left is for someone to win it (Champions League) twice (in consecutive seasons)".
Jose hit the proverbial nail on its head, because if there is a team that can retain the trophy, it is this current crop of Blaugranas and this isn't me dreaming, but no one can deny that, if ever, eleven players have been deemed capable of achieving the impossible, it would be this Barcelona side. Realistically, it would be easier to take a wild guess at which teams can make it to the semi-finals this year and I would have to agree with Jose on this, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona look like favourites.
"And so castles made of sand, slips into the sea, eventually"- James Marshal Hendrix with the song Castles Made of Sand which, in my opinion, should be made the unofficial anthem of UEFA Champions League, explains the curse that besets the tournament well. In case, you're wondering, the song is about how people believe in something so strongly, but finally come to realise that some 'Castles' are indeed made of sand and collapse. I am inclined to believe that the curse can be overcome and Barca is the side to accomplish the impossible. However, one cannot deny that this trophy seems to need an unhealthy dose of luck to get to the finals, let alone win it. It's easy to see that the Catalans are favourites to win it, but they were favourites in the 09-10 season as well, when Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan, went on to beat Barca and were crowned champions of Europe. United were favourites to retain the trophy in 2008-2009, but Barca, it seems, didn't get the memo. Time and again, this tournament has been prone to controversy (referee's making questionable decisions) and has a scary tendency to give the Champions or the favourites an early exit.
Last year, it would have been safe to assume that United would have gone on to lift the trophy if they had faced any other team in Europe but Barca (yes, I believe the Red Devils would have beaten Madrid as well). But this tournament does not guarantee that the best teams always reach the finals, as shown by the 09-10 season. Let's all be honest, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich weren’t that great and I found the final extremely boring. Even after lifting the trophy, most people agreed that Inter weren't really champions (I know, I know, I must be another Cule who's bitter about Barca losing to them right?), although it would be unfair to take anything away from them, the fact remains that they simply weren't that good. Roughly 16 months removed from the historic night in Madrid and the Italian side is currently lingering in the relegation zone of Serie A.
One wouldn't bet against Barca, and I really do hope they go on to retain the trophy because no other team deserves it more. But considering, the 'curse' of the tournament and how teams like Madrid, United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and AC Milan have improved drastically in recent times, it would take a humongous dose of desire, hard work and luck (in regards to injuries for example) for Lionel Messi and co to lift the trophy again and rewrite the record books.
In conclusion, can they do it? Can the curse be broken? Sure and although I really hope they go on to win the coveted trophy again, at this point of time, it's hard to predict the same without entertaining a few doubts. Since Barca and Pep seem obsessed with 2-2 draws and the team's defence looking shaky, at best, I can't help but see bad omens everywhere (I'm stereotypically Indian, we are superstitious and more so for me cause this is Barca we're talking about). I will admit there could never be a more opportune moment in time, and if Barca want to eclipse all other great teams in the history of the game to become 'the best ever', this is the year to do it. And I really, really hope that happens.
Now let us pray, "Dear God, I really do hope you're a Cule. And if it is your will, that Barca don't win the Champions League this year, could we at least reach a compromise and make sure that they win the League and Madrid don't win anything? With the natural conclusion to that being, Mourinho losing his job?Amen"
Until the next time,
Inder-forever pessimistic- Methil
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