Part of the beauty of living in New York City is being in the middle of the biggest cultural melting pot in the world. In my time here whether I was playing, coaching or just meeting fellow football fanatics, I have made some fantastic friends from all parts of the world, different cultures and walks of life, but we are all mad about the game.
When I met up with my friend Conrad about a month ago, a statement he made got me thinking about the current state of affairs in the footballing world;
“For me, Champions League has past the World Cup for football supporters, and even for many players as well. You can be a top player in the world, ply your trade for a top European club and still never play in a World Cup. You will however have plenty of chances to not only play in the Champions League, but potentially win it.”
Truth be told, when I later sat down and gave his opinion some real though, in all honesty, his point was not as far fetched as it first seemed.
Consider the following lists;
Players not in this years World Cup – Robert Lewandowski (Dortmund/Poland), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal/Wales), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid/Wales), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG/Sweden), David Alaba (Bayern Munich/Austria)
Players who squeaked into this years World Cup – Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich/France), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid/France), Paul Pogba (Juventus/France), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Portugal)
This is just a small list of players who will not feature at the games biggest stage this summer as well as players who had to go through qualification playoffs to get in – let us not even consider the amount of fantastic players who are missing out due to not being selected for their national team. This is where the beauty (to most) of the Champions League comes into play.
Consider the fact that the World Cup is once every four years, it lends to the slow build up of excitement and the inevitable pure elation of the masses once the tournament commences. Unfortunately, it always seems that it is over before it even began, and then you have to wait another four years. Given that Champions League is each and every season without fail, many supporters already lean to that corner purely based off event frequency. Coupled with the ability to see the worlds greatest players for the worlds biggest clubs, regardless of national affiliation, is surely the appeal. Let me put it another way – Gareth Bale is almost guaranteed to never play in a World Cup, Ryan Giggs made over 960 total appearances for Manchester United, won countless trophies with the Red Devils and is one of the greatest players of his generation, yet he never played in a World Cup. When the sports greatest tournament is lacking in some of the sports greatest players, is it still the greatest tournament?
Let us bear in mind here that I am not discussing my personal beliefs on the matter, I am merely stating the case for my Conrad and for those who feel as he does. But, do you ever wonder, if the players are beginning to agree with those sentiments as well?
I am sure you all watched the Champions League final this past weekend – I am sure you all saw how happy Gareth Bale was that he achieved the goal he set for himself that was the reason why he moved to Real Madrid; he wanted to play in the Champions League, and win it. But do you ask yourself, in his mind, was this his World Cup? Is it the World Cup for so many other players who play for national teams who have no realistic chance of ever playing in one? Arguments could be made that the World Cup field should be expanded to include higher chances of smaller nations qualifying, but such a campaign would no doubt receive a ton of flak from the community at large.
Sport in this day in age ultimately revolves around the fans (be them neutral or not) having the ability to see their favorite players grace the playing surface. Regardless of the fact that the World Cup, for me, still remains the ultimate tournament and the crown jewel in the footballing universe, so many these days are concerned with the entertainment value that is influenced by what players are playing, regardless of the aura that comes with a particular tournament. From that standpoint alone, Champions League has wrestled many a footballing heart away from the World Cup – besides, where else would fans ever get to see David Alaba lift a major trophy.