The seductive glamour of your glittering European elites

10 04 2015

The glorious champions league returns next week. Twitter looks on the champions league as some shimmering ideal of human achievement.

@Iptamenos23 – @pithion Επίσης η Καστοριά πήρε το Champions League.

@morrismoldov – Fyra dagar till Champions League-kvart. Ahhh peppen.

@uh_milko – На финал UEFA Champions League с Ginza Project

@movie_japan_wcu – 久保途中出場!ヤングボーイズが大勝!】ヨーロッパリーグ(EL) 欧州CL チャンピオンズリーグ UEFA Champions League オアロ スロバン・ブラチスラバ

@SamPodZvezdama – In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@MoneyMaker1032 – In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@frankworrall –  In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@aydanels20 – In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@merseypride – In GAZPROM’s Football Club, you can win prizes all round the UEFA Champions League.

@T_Nambahu – THE MAGIC OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE… Got that child like excitement…and I’m a neutral

I look on the champions league as a giant leech draining my enthusiasm for interacting with other human beings. I prefer to remember the time when the European Cup was a mere sporting competition, the time when Swedish clubs were able to win one of UEFA’s competitions.


Everything changed when UEFA jazzed things up in 1994. I was at the dawn of their bluesky thinking. I should have been watching Bangor City in the European Cup but the champions of Wales, along with the rest of Europe’s dead skin, were forced into the UEFA Cup. Their crime was to exist in a less buoyant market television market. UEFA have entrenched this approach in the last 21 years. The European Cup had to wait another 17 years to see Bangor City.

It wasn’t solely UEFA’s fault, a new breed of plutocrat appeared on the scene. Not only were they unencumbered by traditional ideas of football they threw erudite money at a coquettish sport. The plutocrats said the next logical step in football evolution was a self-contained “European Super League” and UEFA allowed the top leagues of Europe to take over the European Cup.

First the glamourous national leagues were allowed two clubs in the competition, then it was three, then it was four. After a bit UEFA deigned to allow the slightly less powerful national leagues to have two places in the champions league to reflect fairness.

The cumulative effect is seen every season. Twenty-two clubs from thirteen countries gain automatic qualification to the so-called “money-spinning” group stage. You might think that this would mean that the other forty one associations are left to fight for the scraps of the other ten places but it’s not that clear cut.

The play-off round contains another five big glamourous clubs from the five most glamourous national leagues and the third qualifying round contains thirteen clubs from the next ten most glamourous national leagues (some of which are represented in the group stage). In effect the clubs from forty national leagues are fighting for the hope of a smell of five places at the top table of European football.

I decided to check whether my outlandish perception was correct so I decided to do a bit of research.

In the history of the European Cup (1956-2015) 123 different clubs have reached the quarter final stage. If we add a watershed of 1992 (The creation of the champions league) we can see a difference. Up to and including 1992 107 clubs reached the last 8 of the European Cup, therefore only 16 new clubs have qualified for the last quarter finals in last twenty three years.

To spin this in a different way;

  • Before 1992 there was an average of 2.97 new clubs per year.
  • After 1992 there has been an average of 1 new club every 1.4 years.

The overall stats for quarter final clubs in all three competitions point towards a measure of equality;

  • In the EURO. CUP/champions league (1956 – 2015) 123 clubs from 30 countries qualified.
  • In the UEFA CUP/europa league (1970-2015) 158 clubs from 28 countries qualified.
  • In the CUP WINNERS’ CUP (1960-’99) 170 clubs from 26 countries qualified.

Other stats reinforce the idea of a developing elitism in the European Cup / champions league;

  • Between 1956 and 2015 123 clubs representing 30 countries qualified for quarter finals.
  • Between 1992 and 2015 33 clubs representing 12 countries qualified for quarter finals.

A comparison of champions league quarter finalists and UEFA Cup / europa league quarter finalists since 1992 reinforces the idea even further;

  • champions league had 33 clubs from 12 countries
  • UEFA Cup/europa league had 77 clubs from 19 countries.

The table underneath underlines the idea with a red pen by showing the national leagues that have provided the European Cup/champions league quarter finalists in different historical periods.

Country 1956-‘66 1967-‘80 1981-‘92 1993-2000 2001-’15
Spain 14 (16%) 9 8 (8%) 9 (14%) 31 (26%)
Italy 9 (10%) 7 9 (9%) 9 (14%) 18 (15%)
England 7 (8%) 11 (10%) 7 5 30 (26%)
W. Ger / Ger 7 (8%) 11 (10%) 9 (9%) 10 (15%) 15
Scotland 5 8 3 1
Holland 5 10 (10%) 3 4 3
Czech 5 5 3
Portugal 5 5 7 5 5
Yug / Serb 5 5 5
France 4 4 5 6 11
Hungary 4 4
Austria 4 3 2
Belgium 4 5 6 2
Switzerland 3 3
Sweden 2 2 3 2
Bulgaria 1 2 3
E. Germany 1 5 2
Denmark 1 1
Greece 2 2 2 1
Turkey 1 1 2 1 3
USSR / Russia 4 9 (9%) 3 1
N. Ireland 1
Romania 5
Finland 1
Ukraine 2 1
Croatia 1
Norway /Cyprus 1 1
Totals 88 112 96 64 120
Top 3 37 (42%) 32 (30%) 35 (35%) 28 (43%) 84 (69%)

The implications of this evidence against UEFA’s bluesky thinking are as clear as an azure sky of deepest summer.

    • Firstly, certain leagues seem to be most powerful in each period.
    • Secondly, the locations of  the most powerful leagues can change.
    • Thirdly, since 2000 the range of national leagues represented in the champions league last eight has been restricted.

Since 2001 69% of the clubs in the champions league quarter finals have come from three national leagues, therefore the three most glamourous national leagues have a virtual stranglehold over champions league income, their glamourous domination is almost total. If we ever needed evidence of the corrupting influence of money upon sporting competition this table this contains it.

In the previous four and a half decades the slightly shifting location of the three/four most successful national league only produced between 30% and 45% of last eight clubs. While it may appear that the successful European clubs have always come from the same cluster of national leagues (Spain – Italy – England – Germany) the successful clubs were never concentrated to the degree they are now.

In modern football parlance “glamourous” is usually a synonym for “richest” and the divisions within European football have been ossified. Pep, Zlatan, CR7, Messi and the rest of our heroes may thrill us with their multinational ballet of football art and their post-modern paeans to Rinus and Valeri but should we be cherishing this kind of football world? What if the moral core of the entire activity is rotten?



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