Twenty years. Two decades waiting on Europe’s top table and not even a tip. If it wasn’t for us, Barcelona and Bayern Munich wouldn’t look so good in European competition but what do we get? Nada, nichts; nothing. Not even a “so long and thanks for all the fish”.
Now we’re the snot-nosed kid at the window watching the clubs stick their snouts into UEFAs trough. Winning the Europa League is the smear we’ll leave on the glass; it’s the only smear we can leave.
We knew this day was coming. For too many seasons we’d rode our luck on finishing in the top four and it game back to bite us on the Arsenal. We’re the team which gambled on black as red came in at CAD Casino. So much navel gazing has taken place that we know they are spotless; there’s no need to look down any more.
And before you think this is some sad lament of yesteryear, think again. I’m not going to pine for a golden age that never was or tell you that you never had it so good. It wasn’t and you didn’t; Europe has long been the graveyard of our dreams. 2006 gave us false hope that we were on the up, only for PSV to bring us crashing down to earth a season later. 2009 gave a vision of what might be only for the fog to descend in eight minutes of madness in the semi-final second leg.
It’s not much to show for twenty years at the top, is it? Oh but what about the great players we’ve seen grace the Emirates turf? This is true but I can see them every weekend on television; I couldn’t in decades gone by. And honestly, I can live without the ritual humiliation the Round of Sixteen routinely descended into.
Don’t Be Sad
No, I won’t miss the Champions League. I’m not a fan of its format as regular readers know.
Before the Europa League gets its hopes up, I think that’s crap as well.
It’s the format; I genuinely can’t stand the group stage. European competition used to hold some mystique. That was the era as much as the format. A quick delve into the memory banks – and I could be wrong about this – but I think Ajax and Standard Liege were the only clubs we’d played twice in European competition prior to the Champions League’s inception.
Not such a rarity these days; you can almost lose count of the sides we’ve faced twice or more. There’s very little about the Champions League which is ‘fresh’ or new these days. From my perspective, that’s a two-fold problem; the regularity with which the same clubs finish in the qualifying places, as well as the seedings.
Listing eight champions as the first seeds didn’t change much for us; the same faces stood in our way at some point, underlining just how much of a closed shop the competition is becoming. While UEFA felt the need to overhaul the tournament thirty years ago to exploit money, they need to do the same now. It’s stagnating.
The big clubs won’t like it. Anything which is a threat to their fiefdom is not going to be welcome but for most, qualification isn’t an issue. It’s only the English clubs where there’s genuine competition for places and the elite don’t care for that.
The financial might of the Premier League has long been a source of jealousy, particularly to the Spanish. Sr. Tebas railed against the wealth of City but quietly left out the support Real received from the city of Madrid elders. A simple oversight, I’m sure.
Say It’s Not The End
The emphasis placed on the Champions League means there’s no prospect of a return to the unseeded round-robin cups without the creation of a European Super League.
While it can’t be ruled out, the prospect fills me with even more dread if it is deemed to replace domestic football. The novelty has long worn off; the Champions League gave us a front and centre view of what that world looks like. Dull and uninspiring, for the most part.
Some fans love it, sucked in by the view that Arsenal are one of the elite. Financially we are; in the sporting sense, we’re further away from that than ever before. Our prospects of being thought of as one of the top eight declined as we grew more comfortable at the Emirates. Too comfy by far and not hungry enough for success.