Around this time of year certain fans of certain European football teams (they think of themselves as the elite) become twitchier than a very twitchy thing. They neglect their wives, husbands and partners (jobs long before that) and become preoccupied, gnawing on their fingernails, darting little glances at their watch – a bit like Breaking Bad’s Jessie Pinkman before he got clean. They are fans of the self-styled ‘premier club competition’ in the world, the Champions League.
WHO INVENTED IT?
Funnily enough, not the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), though they’re happy enough to clasp it to their collective corporate bosom these days. No, it was the brainchild of the French sports newspaper L’Equipe way back in April 1955. The paper thought it would be ‘un wheeze jolie’ to create a competition for Europe’s elite football clubs and then write critical articles about them.
THE TOGETHERNESS OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE THROUGH THE WORDS OF SIR ALEX FERGUSON (LEGENDARY FORMER MANAGER OF MANCHESTER UNITED)
- On German teams: ‘They were never getting through that tie; with 11 men we had no problem. The young boy showed a bit of inexperience but they got him sent off. Everyone sprinted towards the referee – typical Germans.’
- On dealing with Spanish teams: ‘Do you think I would get into a contract with that mob? Jesus Christ, no chance. I wouldn’t sell them a virus.’
- On Italian teams: ‘They come out with the “English are so strong, we’re terrible in the air, we can’t do this, we can’t do that.” Then they beat you 3 – 0.’
- More love for the Italians: ‘When an Italian says it’s pasta I check under the sauce to make sure. They are innovators of the smokescreen.’
- And yet more love, this time for an individual Italian: ‘That lad [Filippo Inzaghi] must have been born offside.’
SOME MORE HISTORY, PLEASE
The European Champions Club Cup ran from 1955 and was soon as good as its word. By 1956 only the actual title winners from each eligible country could participate. However, when it turned into the Champions League in 1992 – adding an initial group stage before becoming a straight knockout cup competition – it opened the doors to the top four teams from each participating league, thus making something of a mockery of that ‘champions’ tag. In the 2003-2004 season, for example, Liverpool finished 4th, a distant 30 points behind champions Arsenal, yet still qualified for the Champions League. In fact, they went on to win it.
SO WHERE DOES THAT IRRITATINGLY FAMILIAR THEME TUNE COME FROM?
Although not ‘proper’ classical music, this is nevertheless based on a 1727 piece called ‘Zadok the Priest’, written by Handel. In 1992 British composer Tony Britton was asked to create something to celebrate the transformation of the old European Cup (a nice little earner) into the pants-wettingly lucrative, gobbles-up-everything-in-its-way, money-spinning thunderbastard that is the modern Champions League, where the basic fee for even competing in the group stage is about £7m, and where each win at that stage is worth about £800,000 and a draw £400,000; according to the latest figures from UEFA, the estimated revenue for the 2012-2013 competition was over one billion pounds.
WHO’S GOING TO WIN IT THIS YEAR?
Each of the final four teams – Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea – has a decent shout, but it’ll probably be Bayern. Even though they’re a goal down from the first leg, manager Pep Guardiola has fashioned this team into the footballing equivalent of a threshing machine, combining Latin flair with Teutonic efficiency, and designed to pulverise the opposition – suck them in, mince them up and spit them out the other end. Or by having Dutch maestro Arjen Robben fall down in the penalty area a lot. You know, if the whole Latin-Teuton threshing machine thing doesn’t work.
MAXIMUM BLUFFING VALUE
The very first European Champions Club Cup competition in 1955 was open not to the champions of each invited country, but to the best supported ones; the ones with the most fan appeal. Real Madrid won it, along with the next four.
DON’T SAY ‘They think it’s all over…’ (That was the World Cup – wrong competition.)
DO SAY ‘Football. Bloody hell…’ (The words spoken by Sir Alex Ferguson in an interview seconds after Manchester United had won the Champions League to complete the treble in 1999.)
The Champions League final will take place on 24 May in Lisbon.