Champions League 2009: Who Can Restore Continental Pride?
After last seasons abysmal showing in the Champions League the top clubs of Europe have a lot to do to regain the confident swagger they had before taking to the pitch against English clubs through the nineties.
After recent years of not quite dominating Europe, last year saw the first all English final ever and three English sides in the last four for the second season running.
What does this say about English football?
Not much really as the managers of these three most recent teams were Spanish, Scottish, and Israeli. The players involved were as cosmopolitan as the managers.
But the fact remains that the English club sides have been playing better football than their continental rivals. I am wondering what clubs from Europe are going to step up and challenge this domination?
Will the Spanish teams mount viable challenges? The Italian? Both these leagues have produced many winners of Europe's premier club competition in the past.
But the Bundesliga and the French League or even the Dutch have all had teams that have been there or thereabouts for years. Who could forget the great sides that have come out of Amsterdam or Munich or even Marseille not to mention Porto.
I have started to wonder where it is these sides have gone in the past few seasons since the new millennium. For besides FC Porto and Bayern Munich all the other winners have been from either Italy, Spain, or England.
The bad news for the continental clubs is that the best of last season's non-English challengers, Barcelona meekly bowed out of the last four without even scoring a goal against the eventual winners. And even though the 2007 Champions League was won by AC Milan they were well beaten by Arsenal in the 2008 competition as the other top continental sides fell weakly to other English opposition.
After looking at it, I have begin to wonder if we are not about to witness another period of English domination of the continental game similar to the period between 1977 and 1982 when three different English clubs won six successive European club titles.
The way the English Premier League sides are looking to strengthen themselves again this season it looks as though the chances of this are moderate to good.
Mind you, since 1990 we have seen in this competition 12 different winners from eight different countries. So in no way has it been easy to establish a lasting hold on the trophy.
In this period, not one side has managed to win it back to back and only AC Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester United have managed to win it more than once with AC Milan the most successful with four trophies followed by Real Madrid with three wins and the two other teams mentioned with two apiece.
Interestingly the last team to pull off back-to-back European club titles was none other than AC Milan (1989 and 1990) who are also the most successful team in this competition of the last twenty years.
With European success and honours the real prize amongst Europe's management elite it will be interesting to see who is in the running come the second round.
With the Champions League on the verge of becoming the worlds premier footballing competition—even to a certain degree more important than the world cup—the incentives are bigger than ever to be known as the greatest club side in Europe.
I will be watching with interest to see if Manchester United can pull off the first defense of this famous trophy since AC Milan in 1990. Or if one of the other English challengers can pull off another thing that has eluded any one country and that is successive winners from the same nation.
All we can do now is hope that that when we finally start focusing on the football again and not all the stuff that goes on between that whoever does win will do so playing the football we love to see.
Roll on 2009...
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