THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Not enough variety in the teams

champtrophy24 May ~ A Lyon v Paris Saint-Germain final next season might mean the Champions League can pack up and go home. Now we have an all-German decider to go with the Spanish, Italian and English ones we've enjoyed this millennium, would a one-nation final from the last of its "Big Five" leagues mean UEFA can do no more for its richest members? Would an all-Ligue 1 affair be the natural end of the commercial revolution instigated by Napoli drawing Real Madrid in the first round of the 1987-88 European Cup? Considering what we've grown accustomed to, not likely.

It might seem a tad domestic for Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund fans but this season's Champions League final pairing amounts to a pleasant change for the rest of us. This despite two clubs who between them have been European champions five times previously, meeting in a stadium hosting the final for the seventh occasion (and Wembley last had it just two seasons ago). Chelsea reached two finals in the last five years, between which we twice had Manchester United v Barcelona. The first ever all-German final is at least a new tune on the same old instrument.

We're apparently living in the era of Barcelona and Real Madrid but this will make it six seasons since a Champions League final didn't feature Manchester United or Bayern Munich. As well as Saturday evening's venue, England has provided eight finalists in the last eight years. Liverpool faced Milan in both 2005 and 2007. In the 21 years since UEFA rebranded the old European Champion Clubs' Cup, half the finals have featured one of the Milan clubs or Juventus. A decider between two teams from the same country remains the best hope of variation on a thoroughly staid theme.

The mono-nation European Cup final could've happened in the days of the pure knockout format, of course. It was a possibility whenever the winner failed to simultaneously defend their domestic league title. That it didn't actually happen until the 21st century grants it a certain frisson – the immediate, micro-monopoly temporarily cancelling out the overriding one. Further short-term excitement is provided by historic repetition. It's no coincidence that Real Madrid (1956 and 2000), Milan (1963 and 2003) and Manchester United (1968 and 2008) are winning the first one-nation finals in exactly the same order as they became the first club from their country to win the European Cup at all. It usually takes around four decades – Bayern won Germany's first European Cup in 1974.

Real Madrid's 1955-60 domination of the tournament included defeats of Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Sevilla in semi- and quarter-finals. Barcelona finally stopped them in the second round of their fifth defence. Nottingham Forest famously eliminated holders Liverpool early in 1978-79. Juventus couldn't retain the European Cup in 1985-86, but did defeat reigning Serie A champions Verona in the second round.

Now it often looks like one country is on the cusp of providing all the semi-finalists for Europe's premier club competition, a feat only achieved once in any continental competition – the 1979-80 UEFA Cup by the Bundesliga. UEFA introduced selected national league runners-up for the 1997-98 season. Dortmund instantly highlighted what some of us thought a flaw in the system by winning the 1997 Champions League while finishing outside the top two in the Bundesliga. But three clubs from one country in the competition for champions was only the thin end of UEFA's wedge.

Two French clubs who've never previously played in the European Cup final? It would blow the minds of couch potatoes across the globe. It would inject the competition with what, by its own standards, amounts to new life. Michel Platini could write his own ticket, while redoubling the prices of everyone else's. Alex Anderson

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