The question as to whether the early stages of the Champions League are unnecessary is an interesting one, particularly as the outcomes of them are generally easy to predict, with the big clubs moving on to the knock out stages and the smaller ones returning, more often than not back to obscurity. However, as true as that is, what is the alternative? The preliminary and to a greater extent the group stages at least offer the smaller clubs an opportunity to express themselves at a higher level as well as offering them much needed revenue. It also offers the football fan a great opportunity to look at the wide range of football that is played in Europe, it offers the opportunity to check out current and future stars of the game plus it also offers the opportunity for clubs to test their fringe and future players in a different style of football.
It should not be forgotten either that very often, games such Inter Milan v Spurs are thrown up, which for many football fans produced the best football seen at any level this season and also spotlighted the outstanding potential of Welshman, Gareth Bale, who has already become one of the most sought after players in world football.
It is true that now and again some matches are a waste, Manchester United v Bursaspor being a recent prime example. Clearly the Turkish side were outclassed and will be consigned to a more distant level of football after the group stages conclude. However, try telling that to their board of directors, their players and their fans that and they would probably start a turf war, as they, like United, earned the right to play the group stages and fully deserved their chance. Bursaspor will, like many other less known teams, be a stronger club for the experience.
It should also be remembered that the like any sport, football is still evolving and the Champions League could easily be the ‘blueprint’ for a much wider form of the game. The idea behind a future European League has long since been on the drawing boards of UEFA and the chances of it being fully sanctioned are quite profound.
How it would work at this stage is hard to know, but it would not necessarily mane the end of domestic football at all. The Premier leagues of all European countries would all continue as normal, with the Champions League being their reward for success. Football fans should be well aware that the Champions League and the Europa League have evolved from the European and UEFA Cups, but both, with the exception of the group stages are still knock-out competitions. The name changes have been made quite possibly for psychologically reasons as much as anything, aimed at preparing all those connected with football, including the football fan for the future format.