Early Doors is a cynical old boot, and it has never
understood the supposed imperative to support English teams in Europe, but it has to admit it is rather pleased at
Tottenham's qualification for the Champions League proper.
It is eight years since an English side reached the
Champions League group stage that wasn't one of the 'Big Four' - that was
Newcastle in 2002/03. And it is 48 years since Spurs were in what used to be
known as the European Cup.
Spurs go into Pot 3, which means they could find themselves
in a group with Internazionale, Real Madrid and Russian champions Rubin Kazan.
Or, equally, they might end up with Lyon, Panathinaikos and
But their, ahem, spanking of Young Boys is genuinely
something to get excited about. At last, there will be some new English faces
in Europe's top competition.
It seems Spurs, with their £100 million-plus squad and their
starting XI made up entirely of senior internationals, are what passes for an
underdog these days.
It is a similar story across the continent, where year after
year the same sides reach the Champions League (or failing that it's
increasingly truculent little brother, the Europa League), with just the occasional Mallorca or Auxerre crashing the party.
Those competitions' group stages have robbed European
football of its novelty.
Look at the foreign sides in Pots 1 and 2: Inter, Barcelona, Bayern, Milan, Lyon, Bremen, Real
Madrid, Roma, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica,
There remains not a shred of mystery in that bunch after nearly
20 years of midweek matches (neither does it help that you can now fly to Lisbon for the price of a
meal at Pizza Hut).
A trip to Benfica used to be a glorious trip into the
unknown, facing a new and exotic adversary.
Nowadays, ED reckons there are British eight-year-olds who
can name more players from Benfica than Blackpool.
Why? Because in the last four seasons, the Portuguese side
have played 12 matches against British opposition in Europe - four against
Celtic and Everton, and two each against Manchester United and Liverpool.
Any decent European side is now a thoroughly known quantity
- and the teams about whom we know nothing are mainly rubbish.
So how to restore the mystique to a jaded format? If you'll
forgive the momentary lapse into management speak, look outside the box. Push
the envelope. Leverage some blue-sky thinking and facilitate a delivery-based
Or, failing that, invite some other teams to come and play.
The Club World Cup is rubbish. Everyone knows that. But the sides
playing in it are not. So why not bring 'guest' teams from other continents
into the Champions League?
Who cares about continental integrity? If Japan can play in the Copa America (as they did
in 1999 and will again next year), then Boca Juniors can play in Europe.
So why don't the Copa Libertadores finalists (Internacional
and Guadalajara), plus the winners of the African and Asian Champions Leagues (TP
Mazembe and Pohang Steelers) gain automatic entry into the group stage?
We could also give a berth in the qualifying rounds to the
champions of major international leagues (Argentina,
Brazil, Japan, even the
How would they get on? Early Doors really doesn't have a
clue. And that's the point.
These are strange, new teams, about which we know little or
nothing. They can restore the exotic flavour to (inter)continental competition.
And when we're heartily sick of playing Etoile du Sahel, and
know everything there is to know about Colo-Colo? We'll just have to find a
bunch of martians to play against.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Harry Redknapp after the crowning achievement of his
managerial career: "I will probably just go home, have a bacon sandwich
and a cup of tea, that is all I want. We have got Wigan
here on Saturday and it is important we continue to pick up points in the
Premier League." Early Doors hates the ongoing trend of playing down
success (almost always accompanied by the words: 'We have got Wigan
here on Saturday'.)
FOREIGN VIEW: Barcelona
boss Pep Guardiola has hinted that moody maestro Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be on
his way out of the club.
"If I have only spoken to him twice in the last six
months, it is for a reason," Guardiola said.
"There's always a reason for things. I'm super-communicative and talked to
him for 45 minutes, it was not a tense conversation.
"I have an open door, if we do not speak, of course there's a reason but
now is not the time to talk about it. I insist. For the sake of the institution
it is better not say anything."
(By the way, what a marvellous boast: 'I'm super-communicative.')
COMING UP: Manchester
City v Timisoara
is live on British Eurosport from 19:35 UK time, it's on the Player, and if
you're some sort of cheapskate we have minute-by-minute text commentary.
And if that were not enough, the Champions League draw takes place at 5pm with live streaming and a nifty draw graphic.