The Last Word: Champions can be boring

For a number of years, the Champions League was considered the height of international club soccer, but these days it's just a bore.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
The sports section of last Tuesday's The Jerusalem Post led with a dramatic headline, one which may have left local fans of European soccer a little concerned, to say the least. "Barcelona must win to avoid early exit" read the warning. 'Could it really happen?' sports fans across the country wondered. Could Barcelona, the team many see as the best in the world, the team with Ronaldinho and Deco, Messi and Puyol, be unceremoniously dumped out of the elite Champions League at the group stage? Its opponent, Werder Bremen, had been performing impressively well in the German league and includes top marksman Miroslav Klose. Of course, it never happened. From the kickoff, Barcelona was completely intent on proving its critics wrong and predictably eased through to the last 16 with a comfortable 2-0 win at Camp Nou. The Catalan giant has been joined in the next round by Real Madrid, AC Milan, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Lyon and a few others. It isn't exactly much of a surprise. For a number of years, the Champions League was considered the height of international club soccer, but these days it's just a bore. A few unlikely teams such as Celtic and Lille managed to make it past the group stage, but there's no way they will get anywhere near the final. However much Avi Mellor, Sagi Cohen and the rest of the Sport5 team try to build up the excitement of the "Liga Alufot," the bi-weekly group matches broadcast were rarely captivating. It is clearly nice and relaxing to watch teams like Barca, United and Milan do away with their opponents one by one, and on a rare occasion even slip up. The style of soccer and level of play is generally pleasing to the eye. But soccer is about excitement and drama. And as this lack of edge-of-your-seat stuff continues, true fans may look elsewhere for their dose of tension-fueled entertainment, leaving the ber-rich Champions League sponsors deciding to spend their money on a more interesting event. The biggest problem is the concept of a league. Obviously, the aim of the competition is to earn money for both the competitors and the organizers. But ever since UEFA got rid of the ridiculous second group phase, the home-and-away match structure means that even if the big teams drop a point here and there, they nearly always come through in the end. Manchester United's exit last year after losing to Benfica is one of the only exceptions, but that in itself was the only time in 10 years the English giant had failed to qualify for the knockout. If UEFA cared about great excitement, it should bite the bullet and bring back the old knockout format, where there was no group stage and each match was of crucial significance. One competition where they seem to be getting it a little more right is the UEFA Cup. Here, the lesser-known, but not necessarily lesser-skilled, European teams have been entertaining and battling it out with much more excitement - Israel's Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv included. As it is close to impossible that the big clubs will agree to scrap the lucrative Champions League group stage, why not cut it down UEFA Cup style - where each team only plays each other once, two home and two away? It will definitely anger the big guns, but the so-called premier club competition in the world will be left to whither and die if the men at the top don't inject a bit of excitement into it.