The 2015/16 UEFA Champions League kicks off later today for it’s 63rd season and we can barely contain our excitement. We put together some reasons why it is the best football tournament on earth.
While local derbies like the one the world watched unfold in Manchester this past weekend are special because of the close proximity of the clubs to one another and the passion that invokes in players, managers and fans alike, there is something very different but equally appealing about the biggest European rivalries.
These are unique because at the core of the rivalries is simply the desire to be the best club in the world. Local derbies have plots and sub plots galore. On the contrary, when Manchester United face FC Bayern München or Real Madrid square up with Juventus, it is the best taking on the best and the actual football takes centre stage. That is a luxury pure football fans are not afforded all that often in this day and age.
A hugely interesting aspect of the Champions League is the coming together of different footballing ideologies that exist throughout Europe.
The aggression and physicality of the English clubs, the flair and extravagance of Tiki-taka football, the simplicity and pragmatism of the Serie A powerhouses, the unpredictability and versatility of the trendy French outfits, the ruthlessness and organization of the German machines and the sheer desire that we see from the clubs of the lesser known leagues make for a fascinating spectacle.
In recent years it has been the passing-game of the Spanish clubs that has dominated Europe as three of the previous four finalists have come from La Liga.
However, after Spain’s disastrous showing at the Euro’s, Tiki-taka football seems to becoming less and less effective and there is now an opportunity for a new regime to rule.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the Real Madrid superstar, you cannot deny his finishing ability.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the all time top goalscorer in the history of the competition with 93, ten ahead of Lionel Messi. Last season, he topped the scoring charts for the fifth time with 16 goals, one off the record of 17 which he set in 2013/14. Ronaldo also netted three hat-tricks last season for good measure.
The forward also has distribution skills, as he is second on the all-time list for assists with 26.
Recently quoted as saying that he would like to play for at least another ten years, there is no sign of Ronaldo – or his prolific record – slowing down anytime soon.
Football fans are arguably the most fanatic of the sporting world and it seems all the crazies come out during the Champions League.
Over 71 000 packed into the San Siro in Milan to watch Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid in May.
Following Real’s win – their record eleventh title – there were incredible scenes as the team’s open-topped bus snaked its way through the dense crowds in Milan on its way to the Bernabeu where the celebrations reached a climax in front of a packed house.
Multi-million dollar teams failing on the grandest stage is something everyone secretly enjoys.
The Champions League has had its fair share of upsets. Who could forget Porto knocking out Manchester United in the Round of 16 in 2003/04. After winning their home leg, Jose Mourinho’s Porto travelled to Old Trafford, where a late strike from Costinha would earn them a draw. Porto would go on to beat Monaco in the final.
In the same season, the most successful Champions League club, Real Madrid were bundled out in the quarter-finals by an inspired Monaco. Ironically, it would be Fernando Morientes who was on loan from Madrid who would put them ahead before Ludovic Giuly scored his second and the overall winner later in the second half.
With giants Barcelona falling to Atletico Madrid last season, it’s anyone’s guess which top club will fail this time around.
Hosted by a different city each year, the final of the Champions League is always something festive.
The carnival atmosphere that is created as a result of both teams’ sets of fans generally being on tour is uncommon but great to witness.
This year’s final will be hosted at the Millennium Stadium in cosmopolitan Cardiff and if there is one country that knows how to host a sporting event it is Wales. Expect a party.