What would you rather watch?—A quadrennial month-long tournament with just a handful of memorable matches and the same five or six champions?—Or an annual 10-month-long championship featuring the world's best club teams, literally hundreds of cracking goals and a different winner each year?
Given those options, most football fans would probably choose the latter. I know I would.
In anticipation of the 2015 UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus, why not toast the world's premier international club team showpiece?
Given the latest stains on FIFA's reputation and its dubious awarding of World Cups, why not praise the Champions League for being the superior tournament?
Before you rebel or accuse me of sacrilege, hear me out.
|The Champions League trophy shown on March 12, 2015, prior to the second leg semifinal match between Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona at Allianz Arena in Munich. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)|
Apples and Oranjes?
Perhaps it's unfair to compare the FIFA World Cup to the UEFA Champions League. After all, a World Cup is a WORLD CUP, right?
You wait four excruciating years for the most watched, anticipated and celebrated sporting event in existence. It's great. But just as suddenly as it begins, it's over. For all of your patience, you're only rewarded with a month of "fever pitch."
Still, (the early part of) last year's tournament did not disappoint. The group stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil featured a slew of stunning goals (Robin van Persie's "superman" header against 2010 champions Spain), surprising results (Spain knocked out) and great individual performances (Lionel Messi vs Iran and Bosnia).
But as in most World Cups, the goals dried up in the knockout stages and teams played more conservatively as the tournament advanced. To make matters worse, nationalistic fervor inevitably seeped into the competition's later rounds.
The meaningless old rivalries and ethnic/racial/national stereotypes of yesteryear dominated the mainstream narrative of the World Cup, making for hackneyed "analysis" and punditry. Even worse, those without a team to represent their real (or adopted) homeland in the later stages often found little solace in supporting the remaining countries.
While fair-weather fans, sporadic viewers and rabid supporters alike wait for 2018, European club football followers are like kids in a candystore year-after-year. Here are five reasons why the UEFA Champions League is superior to the FIFA World Cup...
1. The Champions League has better teams and more parity.
With a three-month-long group stage and two legs per knockout round, the Champions League forces teams to prove their mettle at home and away.
The Champions League has also featured some of the greatest squads ever assembled. Whether its this year's Barcelona team, the 2009 version, Milan 1989, Ajax 1995, Real Madrid 2002 or Manchester United 2008, its difficult to argue that Europe's top club teams are vastly superior to almost all national teams.
After all, the best clubs are comprised of the world's best players, and not just the country's best. Whats more, professional footballers spend so much more time with their clubs than they do with their national teams, which leads to greater cohesion and fluid gameplay.
It's great to see smaller countries, such as last year's Costa Rica team, hang on and battle the big boys in the World Cup. But surely we all know from experience that the smaller nations will never win the whole thing. No team outside of South America or Europe has ever had a realistic shot at winning the World Cup and that doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon.
Conversely, remember when Porto shocked the world in 2003 to defeat Monaco in the final? Or when Liverpool came back from three goals down in the second-half of the 2005 final to stun AC Milan? How about when Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia made it all the way to the quarterfinals in 2012? Or when unfancied Borussia Dortmund throttled Real Madrid in 2013 to make it to the final?
The Champions League somehow simultaneously features the best teams and the unexpected.
2. The Champions league is just as meaningful as the World Cup
On a superficial level, the World Cup means more than the Champions League. After all, a World Cup pits nations against each other. And what can be more glorious than being the world's best?
Yet many football fans love their clubs as much, if not more, than their national teams (i.e. Barcelona and its ties to Catalan identity).
Without condoning hooliganism, it is rare to see the same passion and fervor among supporters of national teams as one sees in the ends, among barras bravas, torcidas and their equivalents across Europe.
Moreso than national teams, clubs have truly global followings. With supporters groups, pubs, stores, blogs and other publications all over the world, one can find a fellow Barcelona or Juventus supporter in almost any corner of the globe.
3. The Champions League has better matches and better goals
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was notable for its dearth of well-played matches or great goals. Many blamed the unpredictable ball, but seasoned followers know that all-around conservative tactics and stifled game-play lent itself to a bore of a tournament. Even the 2006 World Cup only had two or three entertaining matches.
The Champions League, on the other hand, always has great match-ups and astonishing goals. This year, Barcelona and Bayern Munich met in a slugfest of a semifinal with the Blaugrana's Lionel Messi figuratively breaking Bayern's Jerome Boateng's ankles before chipping the world's best keeper, Manuel Neuer, en route to a majestic tie-sealing goal.
With the likes of Messi, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, Chelsea's Eden Hazard, PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, not to mention Bayern's Arjen Robben in the competition year-after-year, viewers can always expect the cream of the crop. While many of these same players grace the World Cup, the difference is the quality of the players surrounding them at club level. That quality makes for these kinds of moments.
4. The Champions League has a better theme song
For every Waka-Waka (2010 World Cup), there's an equally forgettable J.Lo and Pitbull duet (2014 World Cup). For every Hips Don't Lie (2006 World Cup), there's an equally cheesey Ricky Martin song (La Copa de La Vida--1998 World Cup). The Champions League has a classy, mighty, rousing and inspirational theme that will never change.
5. No FIFA meddling = No corruption to stain the competition
Nothing close to the latest FIFA corruption/bribery/money-laundering/complicity in human rights violations/what-the-hell-else can they dig up next?--has ever come close to sullying UEFA or the Champions League.
Whatsmore, UEFA has attempted to increase parity in Europe's domestic club competitions by regulating overspending and debt through its Fair Play Regulation.
The Champions League is UEFA's biggest cash cow, just as the World Cup is FIFA's. The difference is that UEFA hasn't been implicated in bribery, scandal or been complicit in the deaths of countless migrant workers to ensure that things go swimmingly year-after-year.
With all of that in mind, here's hoping for a memorable final between Juventus and Barcelona. May the goals reign, may the stars shine and may the UEFA Champions League continue to be what it has always been: The greatest international sports competition of them all.
|Juventus players warm up during a training session on Friday, June 5, 2015, at the Olympic stadium in Berlin on the eve of the UEFA Champions League final between Juventus Turin and Barcelona on Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)|