The recent Champions League draw has excited football fans across the world. Arguably the most mouth-watering match puts the Spanish national champions Real Madrid against the current Premier League leaders Manchester United. Games played between Manchester United and Real Madrid are rarely matched for quality, intensity or even TV audience figures. The two clubs have met four times on Europe’s biggest stage with Manchester United first claiming the trophy at the expense of Real Madrid in the 1968 semi-final.
The competition has seen two different trophies since its inception – the current design was first cast in Switzerland and is shaped like an urn with enormous looping handles. The iconic image of the cup held aloft by Bobby Charlton in the stands at the old Wembley Stadium resonates with football fans of all generations and cultures. However, with the recent proposals to change the competition’s format and the competitions vigorous shake-up in 1992, which spurred a new era of Champions League football , can we compare the achievements of the 1968 Matt Busby team to recent winners such as Chelsea, Barcelona and the 2008 Manchester United side?
Unfortunately, the improvement in facilities, healthcare and playing conditions makes it hard to compare the quality of former and current winners. On the other hand, the reformed design of the competition makes it more unpredictable and seemingly harder to obtain the most famed trinket in club football.
The UEFA Champions League’s predecessor competition, the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, started in 1955 with a ‘straight knockout’ format, featuring only 16 teams (the winners of domestic leagues) with a total of 29 matches being played. At first the English FA restricted access to the competition believing that the domestic cups should take priority. However, as the competition became more established teams across Europe (mainly English and Northern European teams) the FA started to take the competition more seriously, hence a challenge to the early dominance of Real Madrid in the form of the 1950s Busby Babes. The 1990s witnessed the most prominent change with the expansion of teams (from 16 to 32) and the incorporation of a round-robin group stage that encouraged greater participation of clubs from the stronger national leagues.
Strictly speaking the Champions League is no longer just the preserve of champions – nonetheless its expansion and ranking of national leagues has certainly improved the excitement and entertainment value of European football with closer and more well matched fixtures. Although it will never be possible to compare the excellence of Eusébio to Lionel Messi, it is sensible to suggest that increased competition, whether it be in the 1992 expansion or the most recent reform proposals, has never been more of an achievement, to lift the Champions League trophy now than at any point in the last 57 years.
Simon Dunlop is a 37-year-old football coach; at the age of 17 he was signed with Manchester City Football Club as a junior but at the age of 18 he broke both legs in a youth game. Unfortunately he could never go back to professional football after his recovery so now coaches young children in the game that he loves and gets all of his football trophies from trophysales.co.uk.
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