In the tournaments more sensible years just the winner of each European league was eligible to compete, which actually made it intriguing. Then UEFA decided they weren’t making enough money so they passed a ruling declaring only nations from England, Germany, France, Spain, Holland and Italy would be allowed to enter the competition. Scotland was awarded one place on the basis they were knocked out in the qualifying stages to allow a token side from Russia in the group stages.
When the tournament was known as the European Cup the format was a simple home and away knockout where the winners would only have to play 9 games to win the cup. Last year’s winners Barcelona had to navigate through 42 games to claim the trophy however.
Before English teams became the laughing stock of Europe they won their fair share of titles, with a succession of 13 consecutive 1-0 victories in the 70’s and 80’s, among them unlikely heroes Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest
Nowadays the tournament features the same teams every year, with the novelty of big name teams like Manchester United and AC Milan facing each other having diminished after having played each other every other year since 2002.
The worst case was Liverpool and Chelsea, who faced each other every year for a decade, leaving observers wondering what year it was with each passing fixture. In an unprecedented move Chelsea pulled out of the 2009-10 Champions League when Liverpool was knocked out in the group stages, claiming they ‘were hoping to square the ongoing series at 20 wins apiece.’
Teams hoping to win in the current era find themselves having to navigate through an 18 game first round, followed by 24 knockout matches where the top 64 teams from the group stages qualify. This involves home and away matches, with an MLS style penalty shootout where the player has to score from the halfway line in the event of a draw. It is not uncommon for the final to be held two days before the World Cup begins.
Allowing multiple clubs from single countries has led to despicable finals featuring clubs from the same nation. In 2000 Real Madrid thrashed Valencia 3-0 in a rigged match which doubled as a La Liga fixture so both sides could have the weekend off. Even worse was the 2003 abomination between AC Milan and Juventus, where Milan won 5-3 on penalties following a 6 hour 0-0 draw more boring than any Middlesbrough season ever.
The first all English final featured Manchester United beating Chelsea on penalties after John Terry slipped trying to retrieve a ten pound note that fell out of his shorts while attempting the game winning penalty. The match was utter shit and according to Martin Tyler ‘it might as well have been Bolton and Fulham.’
The Champions League is due to be expanded in 2011 to feature the champions from every minor division in Europe as to give the likes of Runcorn Town a ‘fair shake.’