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Why Is the Champions League the Holy Grail of Club Football?

This week sees the return of Champions League football with the fourth round of fixtures in the group stages set to take place over the coming days. Some mouth-watering matches will be played from Borussia Dortmund facing off against a resurgent Arsenal to a clash between two giants of the game when Juventus host Real Madrid. The eyes of the footballing world will once again turn towards the most prestigious competition in the world, but why is winning the Champions League considered the holy grail of club football?

Sir Alex Ferguson once said: “The Champions League is the best competition in the world now, better than the World Cup, better than the European championships. It’s a fantastic tournament.” If arguably the greatest manager ever is giving the competition such high praise, then you have to take note. The Champions League consists of the best domestic teams from all over Europe and to win the competition in its entirety is seen as the pinnacle of club football. Taking part in the European competition has many advantages to it and just qualifying for it is a huge attraction for potential players looking to move clubs. Take Gareth Bale as an example and his world-record transfer to Real Madrid after Spurs missed out on Champions League qualification.

The money generated from partaking in the Champions League in terms of TV revenue is also a huge factor. Many clubs, such as Arsenal, rely on the safety net of the guaranteed income as a result of qualification to the competition. It’s highly unlikely that Mesut Ozil would have swapped the Santiago Bernabeu for the Emirates had they not managed to qualify. Similarly, you also have to question whether or not Arsene Wenger would have parted with the staggering £42.5million had they not reached the group stages.

In the quest to be crowned winners, the likelihood is that you are going to come up against a big club from either Spain, England, Italy or France and this is why any eventual winner is held in such high regard. Take Manchester United when they were crowned winners in 2008, overcoming a group consisting of Roma, Sporting Lisbon and Dynamo Kyiv. In the latter rounds they knocked out French side Lyon before facing Roma again. In the semi-finals they overcame Barcelona before playing Chelsea in the final, prevailing on penalties.

Another factor worth taking into consideration is that teams in the Champions League travel long distances to face off against sides with less than impressive facilities and in unfamiliar surroundings. Teams travelling to Turkish side Galatasaray, for example, can expect a hostile atmosphere from the home support and visiting teams will often settle for a draw when playing at the Turk Telekom Arena. The top teams in the competition will be used to playing in state of the art stadiums and performing on world class pitches, but certain teams will not possess the same level of facilities. Whilst the bigger teams are expected to beat the smaller clubs, the pitch conditions can often play a part in shock defeats. As such, these away games can make the Champions League very difficult, which adds to its reputation as the one trophy really worth winning.

However, the flip side of the argument is that winning a league title is bigger than the Champions League. Take the Premier League for example, whereby all 20 clubs have to play a minimum of 38 games. Factor in cup competitions and teams could well feature in over 45 games and this will test a squad’s depth and endurance to breaking point. Winning a league requires a consistent level of good form over a number of months and against a variety of opponents. As such, some would argue that this make its harder to win than the Champions League and is therefore more prestigious.

Published on November 7 2013 for The Huffington Post.

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