The semifinals of the UEFA Union of European Football Associations Champions League are upon us once again, with Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich proving to be the cream of the crop as the four remaining teams in the competition once again. However, many have argued that football’s greatest club competition is becoming increasingly stale and predictable, with the same rich clubs always progressing to the final rounds. Others have criticized the way in which teams have been drawn, often playing the same teams year after year in the group stages. Has the Champions League lost some of its luster, or is the it still captivating fans around the world.
There is certainly a great deal of evidence to suggest that the tournament has been dominated by a small number of teams in recent years. For example, Real Madrid has reached the semifinals in each of the last four years and Bayern Munich has missed the semifinals only once since the 2009-2010 season. It is clear that this tournament is becoming more and more predictable as the years go by and it looks to remain that way for the future.
Additionally, the predictability of the group stage draw has not helped to heighten the excitement surrounding the tournament. Bayern Munich and Manchester City have played each other in the group stages for three of the past four seasons, as have Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund. Personally, I feel that a huge part of the excitement of the Champions League is watching teams that rarely play compete head to head. The repetition of certain fixtures is making the event increasingly dull.
The fact that a small selection of teams dominate the tournament each year is not surprising. It is representative of the way football is currently operating worldwide. The English Premier League is dominated by the “Big Four,” Real Madrid and Barcelona battle it out in La Liga each season and Bayern Munich runs away with the Bundesliga year after year. There are only a small number of elite sides in domestic competitions and this carries over to the Champions League. Most sides simply do not have the resources to compete for a league title around the world. A monopoly of money and talent has affected leagues in every country.
The Champions League is following the same trend. Last season, all eight group winners won their first knockout round. Many agree that this is extremely problematic to the tournament’s success because many teams find themselves unrepresented in late rounds.
“The aim for the Champions League has to be for every game to mean something but, at the moment, they do not,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher wrote in his Daily Mail column two seasons ago. “Group stages have fizzled out and it has only been from the quarterfinals that the competition has come alive.”
The Champions League has a serious problem on its hands, and it needs to find a way to reinvent itself in the near future or risk becoming an obsolete tournament that will lose football fans around the globe.