I love the Champions league. It is compulsive viewing, involves the best players in the world and produces some marvellous sporting theatre and some interesting attack versus defence training sessions too. However call me a nostalgic stig in the dump but seasons like this one with Chelsea in the final, I find it hard to stand tall and say we are watching Europe’s finest, even if they are there by merit, which they are. In 2005 Liverpool’s champions league winning side contained Steve Finnan,Djimi Traore, Vladimir Smicer and Milan Baros. Many people (mainly English) football fans argue that this is one of the worst teams/squads to win the champions league. A starting XI of:
Dudek, Finnan, Carragher, Hypia, Traore, Alonso, Garcia, Gerrard, Kewell, Baros and Riise doesn’t scream ‘best team in Europe’ but when you look at the strength in depth; a bench of Carson, Josemi, Hamann, Nunez, Biscan(!!) Cisse and Smicer it begs the question how on earth did they prevail at all in a competition so tough for such a long period.
It has been put to me that this years Chelsea line up could rival Liverpool’s 2005 effort with the likes of Bosingwa, Romeu, Kalou, Mikel and Malouda and whilst I agree this is not a strong Chelsea line up and these players are substandard it is slightly over-crictical on players who only a few seasons ago were winning the double for Chelsea under Ancelotti. Biscan and Traore never came close to this level before their CL victory.
Clearly the campaign in 2005 took its toll on Liverpool who finished the season in 5th on 58 points (the same as Bolton Wanderers) a whopping 37 points (enough to survive relegation) behind the league champions Chelsea. So my question is, with Chelsea struggling this season, finishing in 6th; does the Champions League have a detrimental effect on league form? Furthermore I am keen to examine how the standard of the CL has fluctuated and conclude what impact success (in this case judged by making the final) in the CL has on future club league campaigns.
Summary of Results:
1) Since 1993 there have been 19 finals (38 teams).
2) 23/38 the number of finalists who win their league the year before reaching the final.
3) 20/38 the number of finalists who win their league the same year as reaching the final.
4) 13/38 the number of finalists who win their league the year after reaching the final.
5) 8 – the number of finalists who don’t even finish in the top 3 the next year.
The first point to pick up on is the contention that teams success in the CL is a hindrance to their league form. The statistics show a more logical contrary that good league form generally has a positive effect on CL progress. This makes sense, as it is clear that by and large the strongest team in a particular league that season are more likely to progress in the CL. It is also pertinent to note that although the number is over half it could be argued that just over 50% of CL finalists winning their domestic league is a relatively low figure given their superiority in Europe’s premier club competition.
The standard itself clearly fluctuates every year with peaks of goliath clashes between all conquering sides like Barca and Man United in 2009 or Ajax and AC Milan in 1995 to a final in 2007 where neither runners up Liverpool nor AC Milan finished higher than 3rd in the season before, during or after the CL final – How can this be a champions league when 2 underachieving domestic sides battle out Europes flagship club tournament?
23 of the 48 finalists won their league prior to reaching the final illustrating that the most important ingredient to being a finalist is league success. This figure is slightly distorted by the fact that only league champions were initially allowed in the competition but since 2000 (when top European leagues were allowed 4 competitiors) there have been 12 finals and 8 have been won by champions of their league the year before so it is a strong trend.
The most interesting statistic however and probably the most relevant argument of this article is that success in the CL seriously hampers your progress the following domestic season. Whether it is burnout or over inflated expectations teams just simply can’t back up their CL success with league form. Possibly putting credence to the argument that it should be called a Champions Cup not League as clearly the facets of a winning team aren’t consistency or ‘winning when your not playing well’ but being able to take an opponent down over two legs through whatever methods, tactics or bus parking you require. Only 13 clubs followed up a CL final appearance with league success the following year. This very low considering the calibre of teams we are talking about coupled with the stat that 23 finalists are present in the final off the back of winning a league yet don’t seem to be able once they reach the pinnacle of European club football keep the run going. Huge teams such as this years Barca and Man United teams who played in the final last year have finished 2nd in their respective leagues further franking the trend. Ajax 96 , Porto 04 Barca 06 Inter 11 are all examples of all conquering domestic sides who failed to follow up several years of domestic dominance once they won the CL final. Could it be that these successful teams take their foot off the gas once they have ‘achieved it all’? I’m not so sure about that but their must be something deep set has caused this consistent spate of underachievement after major achievement. I suppose the phrase ‘after the lord mayors show’ was invented for examples like this and it seems unequivocal that there is a correlation between CL success and subsequent below par domestic league form.
Whilst I accept that there are a large number of variables involved in CL and league success; injuries, suspensions, transfer windows, cup runs, managerial changes (in Chelsea’s case they seem to succeed once they have one…Hiddink, Grant, Di Matteo) it doesn’t dilute the fact that despite having the ability to attract big names, gain more money through sponsorship and TV rights the bottom line is it doesn’t bring consistency and despite good cup teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and arguably AC Milan being successful none have been able to build a lasting dynasty of success akin to that of Man United, Barcelona or Bayern Munich and that is precisely the reason why I loved the old format. Yes it was exclusive, possibly over elitist and not always the best spectacle, as the champions of Finland provided a test in line with a championship side when we could be watching Real Madrid, Spain’s second best team in action. To me however it was just what it said on the tin…
…The Champions League; Smicer, Traore and Biscan need not apply.
The first value represents the league finishing position the season before reaching the final. The second indicates their league position the season they reached the final and the third number shows their finishing position the season after the CL final. A dash or hyphen indicates the team finished outside the top 3 that season.
2011 Barca 1st 1st 2nd MU 1st 1st 2nd
2010 Inter 1st 1st 2nd BM 2nd 1st 3rd
2009 Barca 1st 1st 1st MU 1st 1st 2nd
2008 MU 1st 1st 1st CH 2nd 2nd 3rd
2007 AC 3rd – - LIV 3rd 3rd -
2006 Barca 1st 1st 2nd ARS 2nd – -
2005 LIV - - 3rd AC 1st 2nd 3rd
2004 PORT 1st 1st 2nd Monaco 2nd 3rd 3rd
2003 JUVE 1st 1st 3rd AC - 3rd 1st
2002 RM 1st 3rd 1st BL – 2nd –
2001 VAL 3rd – 1st BM 1st 1st 3rd
2000 RM 2nd - 1st VAL – 4th 3rd
1999 MU 2nd 1st 1st BM 2nd 1st 1st
1998 RM 1st – 2nd JUVE 1st 1st –
1997 BD 1st 3rd – JUVE 2nd 1st 1st
1996 AJAX 1st 1st - JUVE 1st 2nd 1st
1995 AJAX 1st 1st 1st AC 1st – 1st
1994 AC 1st 1st - BARCA 1st 1st -
1993 Mars 1st – 2nd AC 1st 1st 1st