Sky have just signed a £240m deal with UEFA to screen more Champions League games than ever from 2009 to 2012. Under the terms of the deal they will now show qualifiers live (we’re all looking forward to F91 Dudelange versus MSK Zilina) and only one game will be made available to terrestrial TV viewers in the UK per week.
British interest in the Champions League is, ironically, sky-high at the moment, with four English clubs in the quarter-finals. Fans all over the UK are looking forward to seeing the last eight with Liverpool, Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal all preparing to kick off a new era of English domination. The motivations for these fans differ though. Fans of the individual clubs will, of course, be hoping to support their clubs to glory.
For most others the motivation is different – we want to see the Big Four knocked off their perch: beaten, humiliated.
Why would a fan of Tottenham or Everton or Manchester City cheer on their rivals, the same clubs that leave them trailing in their wake, often buying up their best players? There can be an element of national pride where some English fans will cheer on anything English. But tribalism often overrides this and the only flag that matters is the one carrying the emblem of their club.
It’s a sad state of affairs in one sense but local tribalism is probably preferable to the xenophobia that the media often fuel. When Manchester United played Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League semi-finals in 1997 there were a few students at my college sporting Dortmund’s distinctive black and yellow strip. Watch a Champions League game in any pub and you’ll find more people cheering the demise of an English team as there are cheering them on – United’s semi-final capitulation in Milan last year brought raucous cheers, for example.
My dislike of the English top four ranks as follows:
4) Liverpool: With the exception of this season’s boardroom shenanigans they are an admirable club with a great history. However they are now managed by a long-ball merchant with a penchant for arrogantly rotating his best players in the belief that mediocre signings like Dirk Kuyt, Jermaine Pennant and Sebastián Leto are good enough to overcome the likes of Barnsley and Luton. Their 2005 Champions League win was inspirational but in the cold light of day utterly ridiculous too considering they on the run-in that season they were losing league games to the likes of Southampton, Manchester City and Crystal Palace when they were supposed to be challenging for the league title.
3) Chelsea: A club built on the money of a mysterious Russian oil baron, they have spent over half a billion pounds trying to win the Champions League but have so far failed to reach a final. Loathed by many for the way they have skewed the transfer market paying massive transfer fees, loathed by others for being led by plainly-unlikeable players like John Terry and Frank Lampard. Used to be managed by the man you love to hate, Jose Mourinho. Now managed by the likeable patsy, Avram Grant, who will probably be fired this summer whether or not he wins the Champions Legue.
2) Manchester United: I’m an ABU (Anyone But United) since Gary Bailey fell on the ball in the 1983 FA cup final to deny outsiders Brighton a famous victory. That’s almost 25 years and counting, long before the club could be considered successful in the modern era. Alex Ferguson (by all accounts a very nice man say those who have met him in public) is an unlikeable manager and a bad loser. He rarely has praise for anyone who has outwitted him, a trait he shares with arch-nemesis Arsene Wenger. United have their unlikeable characters, from utter gobshite Rio Ferdinand to angry, bulldog-faced Wayne Rooney (football the only thing keeping him from a life loitering on street corners). It should be said though that consummate professionals like Giggs, Scholes and quiet men like Michael Carrick make them a more bearable side than Wenger’s mob (see below). As for the whining, diving Christiano Ronaldo, apparently the greatest player in the history of things? Well…we’ll see…
1) Arsenal: Hard to separate Arsenal from the above but they are just about my most loathed English side in the last four. When they are on their game they are the best club in Britain, if not Europe. But they are also the whiniest: Cecs Fabregas couldn’t be any more annoying if we found he was responsible for penning “Battlefield: Earth”. Arsene Wenger, the myopic King, recently had no problem determining that the horrendous injury to Eduardo Da Silva was perpetuated deliberately and that the player responsible should be banned for life from football. Considering how Emanuel Eboue kicks and dives his way all over the pitch, how Jens Lehmann could have picked a fight with Mother Teresa and William Gallas is the quintessential child in a man’s body, you would think he had enough problems at home to worry about. Horrible professionals but I suppose it’s hard to be nice and successful.
So I’ll be watching, filling UEFA’s, the club’s and Sky’s coffers while praying for a Fenerbache v Schalke final which I won’t be watching.