One of the biggest sporting misnomers, the UEFA Champions League, comes back around in September, and as far as European football is concerned, there is no greater competition.
Each and every team in Europe strives to book their place in the Champions League to reap the financial benefits, with qualification to the group stages of the tournament being worth an estimated £50-£60 million.
Despite the great success of the UEFA Champions League, the tournament could be improved, for both spectators and for the less privileged European teams.
The tournament would be much greater if it was solely a knockout competition.
One would have to go back 20 years to find a Champions League tournament—or European Cup, as it was then known—that did not involve group stages.
The reasoning behind UEFA integrating group stages into the tournament is obvious. The group stages add six extra Champions league fixtures, which in turn boosts revenue and advertising.
However, if the tournament reverted to a more traditional knockout competition the fairness, quality and excitement would all improve for spectators and European teams.
With the current format of the UEFA Champions League, there are multiple European league winners who never have a chance to grace the Champions League proper. They are subjected to qualifying rounds to funnel teams out of the tournament to make way for the “bigger” European sides.
Seventy-seven teams will compete in fixtures of the Champions League, but only 32 teams will play in the Champions League proper.
The current format includes three preliminary qualifying stages and a playoff stage which helps UEFA funnel the lower league teams out of the tournament to open up room for teams from the elite leagues of Europe.
Earlier in the tournament's preliminary rounds, Danish Champions FC Copenhagen and the Norwegian Champions Rosenberg BK had to play two two-legged matches prior to making the playoff stage, where they ended facing one another.
The matchup resulted in Rosenberg BK being eliminated on away goals and consequently missing a chance of reaching the financial goldmine, which is the Champions League group stages.
The additional insult in that scenario is that while Rosenberg had to defeat two teams to earn a chance of facing another team for a chance to make the group stages, Tottenham, who finished fourth in the Premier League, were automatically placed in the playoff stage and had just one team to defeat to earn a spot in the Champions League.
Not only would a solely knockout tournament help the less privileged teams from the lower leagues in Europe reap some of the Champions League wealth, but it would also help the top-tier European teams.
As the tournament stands, any European team that wish to win the Champions League or reach the semifinals will have to play at least 12-13 games on top of the average 38 league games and additional domestic cup games.
On average, an elite team will play anywhere from 50-60 games a season.
That is not to mention the additional international games the players will play if they are called-up for international friendlies or tournaments. If the Champions League was to revert to a competition without any group stages, the players on elite teams would benefit from having to play fewer games a season.
The biggest concern for UEFA would be the thought of a big team such a Manchester United or Barcelona being knocked out early, and ratings and income falling as a result. But the fact is, every sports fan loves watching knockout tournaments.
The most exciting part of the Champions League follows the mundane group stages. For the most part, the big sides have secured qualification after their first four games, and send out weakened sides for their two remaining games.
That would be a thing of the past in a knockout tournament.
Last year, FC Zurich faced AC Milan home and away as part of their Group C fixtures. Zurich stunned the Italian giants by beating them 1-0 in Italy and playing out a 1-1 draw in Switzerland. If that result took place in a knockout tournament, it would have been one of the most memorable moments in Champions League football.
However, because AC Milan still managed to finish second and make the latter stages of the tournament, and Zurich finished at the bottom, the results were overlooked.
If the Champions League became a solely knockout tournament, the fairness of the tournament would increase drastically, as the lower teams would at least play some part of the Champions League proper.
The players and teams would benefit from having to endure less games and less travel during the season, and the fans and spectators would not have to wait until February to have the excitement of high-stakes, knockout European football on show.