by OdlerRobert Jeanlouie
The World Cup Finals: 32 teams, 32 days, 64 games, one Champion. Nothing equal the World Cup. Nothing in intensity, passion, nationalism, patriotism, history. The quadriennal World Cup is what replaces the Word Wars. But, in quality, just between you and me, not every game is the same. Many players, in the same team, don’t practice enough together; often; there is a gulf of quality between them. Some teams are intrinsically weak. Salvador-Bulgaria, who wants to watch that “clash of the unknowns”, unless you are a Salvadorian or a Bulgarian? One can argue that enthusiasm and patriotism will hold up to the challenge of quality.
Now what about a World Cup with ONLY the best (and the most famous) players in the World; all mediocres out? What about a World Cup with 32 all-star teams , played in 127 games, over 9 months, yielding one Champion? Nationalism is not part of this equation, but professionalism, with all that is best in World Football, la creme de la creme, are present. And the financial rewards, which are what professionals play for, are huge. Well, this competition exists, it is called the European Champions League. The tournament is played, every year, from September to May, and showcases the absolute best games and ALL the best players in the world.
Don’t be fooled by the word European in this title. It just so happen that the tournament is played in Europe because only the rich European sides have the tradition, the infrastructures and the euro-dollars to attract and maintain the greatest players in the world, whether they come from Chili, Cameroon, Japan, Portugal, Argentina or Brazil. Some of these footballers are bought by these outfits in pre-adolescence; case in point: the Argentine wunderkind, Lionel Messi, was brought to Barcelona at the age of 12. European, yeah right! Some teams have no nationals at all; a few years ago, Arsenal, a London club, finished among the top tier without playing a single Englishman! Shakhtar Donestk, a Russian side, last year, played with 9 Brazilians! In 2009, the competition fielded 108 Brazilians and only 15 British. Is that European?
So, the European Champions League, with the best players, the best coaches, the best stadiums, the most convincing marketing, and the greatest fervor for the Beautiful Game, starts its 2011-12 edition this week. The format is the same as the World Cup’s: eight groups of four teams; two teams, in each group, will qualify for the knock-out phase. However, the match-ups, apart from the May final, are played as home and away.
If you want to stay on top of what is happening in World Football, and watch the best football, you need to follow the European Champions League. The season starts on Tuesday, this week, with a classic: Barcelona-AC Milan, i.e the Spain Champions, the Spaniards who wo the World Cup last year (re-inforced with Keita, Messi, and Alves) against the firebreathers who won the Italian Championship last year (Robinho, Pato, Thiago Motta, Ibramovich, etc). Plus seven other games, on Tuesday.
All the games will be shown, in the United States, on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Deportes, starting at 2:30 p.m. Just don’t miss them; set your VCR. They are better, in purity and quality, than the World Cup games.
(OdlerRobert Jeanlouie, Sunday, September 11, 2011)