Well, that was an ordeal. Anyone who sat through the tedious group stage draw for the Champions League will know what I mean. Somehow, UEFA managed to drag a simple task out for an hour, with pointless montages and endless special guests, a dreary experience lived up only by Ian Rush’s ongoing struggles with small plastic balls.
— Alejandro Dos Santos (@IcEBoX2112) August 25, 2016
Another problem with the draw was the endless procedure. UEFA have so many rules about who can play who at this stage that it almost became pointless. You can’t play a team from the same country. You’ve got to keep teams apart for television reasons. You can’t play another league title winner. Russian teams can’t play Ukrainian ones. It was endless.
Sadly it was typical of the spectacle that the Champions League group stage has become. It’s a competition that only comes alive after Christmas, with the pool round being a procession for some clubs and an exercise in futility for others. Barcelona will be playing their youth team by matchday five, whilst Ludogorets turn up with absolutely no chance of making it through at all.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 25, 2016
Whilst a return to the old straight knockout format is fanciful, UEFA need to do something to liven things up – and a relaxation of the seeding rules seems to be an obvious move to make. So what if some big clubs face each other and go out at an early stage? If you want to win the competition then you’ve got to beat the best anyway, whilst viewing figures should go through the roof with some big fixtures that actually matter at an early stage.
There are some theoretically fantastic matches in store from this particular draw. Borussia Dortmund will face Real Madrid, for example. But when the other teams in the group are Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw, will those two matches actually matter that much? Not really. It’s hard to get excited about securing your seeding for the next round.
‘And that concludes the most boring Champions League Group Stage draw of all time, I don’t know why we even bother’ #UCLDraw
— Stephen Sibbald (@SSibbald9) August 25, 2016
Throw a Juventus or Arsenal into that group, though, and suddenly you’ve got six thrilling rounds of matches on your hands. It would add a whole new dimension to the tournament for neutral fans and television companies, who could give up on trying to hype up Bayern Munich vs. Rostov and have something to really get excited about.
It would be good for the smaller teams as well. Some weaker sides would make it into the latter stages of the tournament, but is that really a bad thing? It would sustain interest in the tournament in their home nations if teams like Copenhagen and Dinamo Zagreb could dream of securing Champions League football into the new year and give them the inspiration needed to grow football in some of the continent’s smaller nations.
I’m sure that you’ll get all excited for the Champions League anthem and watching Arsenal crush Ludogorets and Manchester City bully Celtic, but there’s only so many 4-0 wins you can watch before getting bored. We could have it so much better.