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Dustbin Decima: Real Madrid winning in Lisbon will devalue Champions League

It will be hailed as Carlo Ancelotti’s greatest achievement but victory on Saturday would owe as much to domestic failure as superiority in European competition.

When the Champions League was expanded in 1997, there was a major outcry over the decision to include clubs that had not won their domestic titles.

How can the champion of Europe not be the champion of its own territory? It makes a mockery of the competition, said the critics.
THE GREAT
 LEAGUE & UCL DOUBLE WINNERS
Manchester United
Bayern Munich
Porto
Barcelona
Manchester United
Inter
Barcelona
Bayern Munich
1999
2001
2004
2006
2008
2010
2011
2013


The answer from UEFA chiefs and their supporters was that cream generally rises to the top and, in most years, the winner will be the champion team of its country - either in the season of qualification or the season of competition.

As our graphic demonstrates, UEFA has generally been proved right. On only five occasions since the revamp has the competition been won by a side which is neither the current or previous domestic title holders.

To land a league and Champions League double in the same campaign is the ultimate achievement in club football and the 12 teams to have achieved deserve to be ranked as the greatest of all Champions League winners.

To follow up a title win with a Champions League win is also laudable – indeed it was the entry criterion for the previous format – so again those title holders are well worthy of the ‘Champions of Europe’ tag.

Which brings us to the five exceptions and this is where the format critics have their “I told you so” moment.  How can Europe truly hail Liverpool as its champion of 2005 when it finished fourth to qualify and fifth in the season of its triumph?
THE GOOD
 CHAMPIONS THEN CL WINNERS
Real Madrid
Bayern Munich
Real Madrid
Porto
Barcelona
Man United
Inter
1998
2001
2002
2004
2006
2008
2010


They are dustbin winners much like Real Madrid (2000), Milan (2003, 2007) and Chelsea (2012). Coaches sacrificed domestic campaigns to prioritize the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Great achievement for the clubs involved, not so great for the reputation of Europe’s elite competition. Indeed Chelsea held so little value to their success that Roberto Di Matteo was out of work within six months of the final.

Fast forward to 2014 and the situation is potentially even more damaging for the integrity of the competition.

Despite spending more money on transfers than any club in the history of football, Real Madrid is the third-best team in Spain. Last year, it was the second-best.

But it is the favorite going into Saturday’s final against the No1 team in Spain by virtue of its own domestic failings - which have allowed Carlo Ancelotti to rest key players.
THE CUP SPECIALISTS
 CHAMPIONS IN NEITHER YEAR
Real Madrid (2nd, 5th)
Milan (4th, 3rd)
Liverpool (4th, 5th)
Milan (3rd, 4th)
Chelsea (2nd, 6th)
2000
2003
2005
2007
2012


Atletico Madrid, in contract, was at full throttle until the final kick of the Liga season last Saturday prior to being crowned champions. Its top scorer, Diego Costa, is injured.

The stars are aligning for Ancelotti but, if Real Madrid does return to the pantheon of Champions League winners by claiming that elusive Decima, it will do so by re-entering the dustbin.

History will view it as little more than the triumph of a cup specialist and all who railed against the UEFA format change 17 years ago will shrug with knowing disapproval.

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