19 March ~ UEFA officials at this morning's Champions League quarter-final draw will have been delighted that the number of nations represented is at its highest since 1999. Indeed, it's exactly what UEFA president Michel Platini was aiming for when he talked about democratising the top level of European club football. A major surprise this year is the inclusion of two French teams in Lyon and Bordeaux. The former beat Real Madrid to reach the last eight while Laurent Blanc's side edged out Olympiakos. Only once in the last 11 years have two French clubs been involved at this stage – in 2004 when Lyon reached the quarters and Monaco battled to the final, only to be beaten by Jose Mourinho's Porto.
There is no doubt that this year's selection of teams from six different countries takes on the look of the tournament prior to the change in structure in 1997. Until this point there was only one team permitted to take part per country with an exception being made for the holders of the trophy. Since then, the rules have been adapted to allow each of Europe's top leagues to send four clubs, often ensuring that the latter stages were not at all representative of Europe as a whole. In each of the last four seasons, England alone has had at least two teams in the last eight, while in both the 2007-08 and the 2008-09 seasons, English teams made up half of the quarter-final draw themselves.
A look back at the last Champions League to take place before the number of participants was altered highlights just how different the tournament has become in recent years. The quarter-finals in 1997 featured sides from eight separate nations, including Auxerre from France, Ajax from Holland and Rosenborg from Norway. The final itself was contested by Borussia Dortmund and Juventus with the German team winning the game 3–1 in what was their only European Cup triumph to date.
The rule change of the following year had an instant effect, with three German teams making it to the quarter-finals, only for Dortmund to meet Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen being knocked out by Real Madrid, who went on to take their seventh European title. Whether England's recent numerical dominance is coming to an end remains to be seen. Chelsea were said to be set for a period of belt-tightening but now that Roman Abramovich has once again failed to get his hands on the one trophy he wants, it's more likely that they will splash out again in the summer. Although they can also expect to be surpassed in spending by another possible newcomer to the tournament. Whoever wins this year's trophy may yet lose a player or two to Manchester City in the close season. Dan Cook