When Mohamed Salah insisted he wanted real Madrid in the Champions League In the end, it wasn’t just about revenge, or even about himself. This reflected the views of a few people at Liverpool, but also of the highest levels of European football.
A big showdown with Manchester City would have represented the pinnacle of modern football, bringing an era of rivalry to a climax, but it would also have peaked in terms of emotional intensity and Premier League dominance. Jurgen Klopp’s players would have been ready, of course, but a third all-English final in four years would likely have been subjected to the kind of stifling tension that most single-country finals typically suffer from.
Likewise, the rest of Europe would again feel left out.
There is little of that with Madrid. There’s not quite the same feeling of suffocation, because it’s somewhat different to face a big European club.
It’s also supposed to be the Champions League goal, but that’s a big question in itself right now. That’s why the 2022 finale is both a throwback and a very modern showpiece, coming at a significant time in a symbolic place.
It was only seven kilometers from the venue of this final, the Stade de France in Paris, in the Salon des Gobelins of the then Hotel Ambassador, that the European Cup was founded in April 1955. Ironically history, it came from 18 of the continent’s big clubs coming together independently of football institutions.
This was not so much an escape as an innovation, especially since regular international competition had only recently been made possible by commercial air travel. The European Cup was designed to crown the biggest team on the continent, which is why Gabriel Hanot proposed a 16-team league in his initial idea in The Team. Sounds familiar. Two-legged knockout matches were settled as a compromise, to lessen the effects of luck, but also to avoid match congestion. Santiago Bernabeu, the first in a line of domineering Madrid presidents, immediately saw the immense potential in it all – especially for his club, Real Madrid.
He drove that first meeting, going so far as to insist that they hold the first-round draw. This despite the fact that UEFA, formed a year prior, were yet to be involved and initially lukewarm. Fifa was ready to sanction the competition as long as the clubs had the approval of the national federations, and so the European Cup was born.
It’s funny how so many of the same forces condition the game, albeit in a different context, nearly 70 years later. They have just evolved into something that would have been barely imaginable in 1955, culminating in a post-2024 Champions League that many football personalities describe as “a monster”.
the further extension of the “Swiss system” to 36 clubs represents the third major change from the original European Cup, after 1992 and 1999, but there is even more irony in this. It’s that the past few months have once again illustrated that there’s a lot about the Champions League that doesn’t need to change.
Fan feedback saw the competition cement its status as the greatest show on earth, with the drama only intensifying. So many midweek encounters have proven unmissable, right down to the so-called lost causes of the second legs, like Villarreal’s remarkable response against Liverpool.
It was once again prime-time drama, the kind of entertainment and audience ratings that most big-name TV series can only dream of delivering.
A host of modern factors, from the way teams are put together to the science and tactics possible, have allowed the best teams to push the boundaries of the game. Even the abolition of the away goals rule has clearly succeeded . It was another season where goals per game exceeded three, for the fourth time in six years. These four seasons meanwhile represent the four most successful campaigns since the European Cup became the Champions League, with some of them almost a goal more per game than in 2005-06 (2.35 ) and 1994-95 (2.3). The last time we had an era with so many goals was during the legends era of the 1960s and early 1970s.
It makes it feel like a golden era in terms of on-pitch football, which makes Madrid and Liverpool’s presence in a Paris final all the more fitting. There has never been a showpiece with so much history, with both clubs having collectively won 19 European Cups. The next best was 2018, and that emotionally charged encounter between the same clubs, who at the time shared 17.
And yet, therein lies the most concerning side of so much sensational spectacle. The contradiction of competition is that this entertainment is now a much-needed antidote to the lackluster familiarity of so much of the endgame, if not a consequence of it.
One of the reasons why a meeting between Liverpool and Madrid is so packed is, of course, because it’s the third time they’ve met in five years. This makes it one of five pairs to have also been played three times during this period, while a high number were repeated. Madrid themselves have been drawn three times with PSG in the same half-decade, with the French champions meeting Bayern Munich the same number of times.
Meanwhile, this is Liverpool’s third final in four years and Madrid’s fifth in nine. Both clubs will obviously bring in a huge following of fans, who see those occasions as vital parts of their legacies, but that’s also why he won’t feel the electrifying event he did, say, for Rangers and England. ‘Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League final last week. .
This match showed that there are around 40 clubs across the continent who can realistically target this secondary showpiece. That’s only the case for around nine in the Champions League, and at least half of them – usually more – are still in the quarter-finals.
“These are the days” is a phrase that has spread among Liverpool supporters in recognition of how special this era of Jurgen Klopp is, but the reality is that it will likely be the future.
While clubs like Rangers now enjoy a Europa League final as a once-in-a-generation event, a core superclub tend to reach a Champions League final every few years. Much of this is of course by design.
The Champions League was shaped, and now reformed, so that the wealthier clubs have more games and the best chance of going further. How else to describe a prize money system where, on the final day of last season, Leicester City would have been guaranteed just under £2m by qualifying but Chelsea were guaranteed almost £30m pound sterling?
It’s a virtuous circle for the biggest clubs, but which is gradually pushing everyone else away. This is how we arrive in a world where it is considered a “fairy tale” that Ajax – four-time European champions – or Villarreal, the seventh richest club in Spain, reach the semis. -finals.
Even some players now talk about “always playing in the same stadiums”, although it must be added that many of them of course love it. This is another element of this irony.
It is arguably this very familiarity that produces such fireworks, as it fosters intrigue, creates tension and also forces managers to be more innovative. They constantly have to guess – or third or fourth – the opposition.
It’s just hard not to think that even a slight redistribution of this – like, say, a price rebalancing or an increase in solidarity funds – wouldn’t negatively affect football and increase the competitive element. You could still have the same sporting highs with a wider spread of clubs. The only reason teams like Villarreal – or Ajax or Benfica or any mid-level club you can think of – aren’t as glamorous or as strong is because they don’t have the money. to keep their best players longer.
It’s more poignant now, but no one saw Dynamo Kyiv as an upstart that dragged things down in 1999. They were one of the most exciting teams in Europe.
It has been that way for most of the history of the European Cup. Think of that first final in 1956, which took place 13 km from the Stade de France at the Parc des Princes. First champions Real Madrid had to come back from 2-0 down to win 4-3 against Stade de Reims. The status of the French team has since been lost to history, but they were then one of the most exciting teams in Europe. They actually lost the brilliant Raymond Kopa to Madrid just after that final, something that hung over the game, but were able to replace him with 1958 World Cup top scorer Just Fontaine for their return to the showpiece three years later.
Now, in shock over Kylian Mbappe’s decisionthere is at least the danger that Madrid will serve as a throwback.
The higher levels of the game evaluate them. That’s how you become a Milan 2007. That’s why they pushed for a Super League, and why they’re still fighting a legal battle to be allowed to run their own competitions.
This time, in other echoes of 1955, UEFA instead sought to institutionalize some of the plot plans with its own Champions League reforms. Wealthier clubs will be guaranteed more matches. And this despite the failure of the Super League and despite the widespread unpopularity of the new competition.
The problem is still that he sidesteps the real issues in the Champions League, which are mostly about financial disparity, rather than actually addressing them.
As for the address at which this great competition was born, the Ambassador Hotel is today a Marriott. It has been branded and globalized, a distinctive old-world sense of prestige replaced by a uniform modern sheen. This is another symbol of the competition itself.
Liverpool, Madrid and Paris set the stage for a historic Champions League final
Source link Liverpool, Madrid and Paris set the stage for a historic Champions League final