Truthful Tuesday | UEFA need to asterisk the winners of both the Champions League and Europa League

Truthful Tuesday | UEFA need to asterisk the winners of both the Champions League and Europa League

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Just four more Champions League and Europa League games before the extended 2019/20 season comes to an end and what a season it has been. Knockout European football has entertained and enthralled us but in this Truthful Tuesday, we say that the UEFA need to place an asterisk by the winners’ names.

The memes have been never-ending. The insanity has been never-ending and yet 2020 doesn’t seem to let up even in the face of a global pandemic. Somehow, despite the coronavirus causing genuine, life-threatening problems around the world, human beings continue to walk about as if it’s their normal life. It’s certainly nice to watch human life persevere but what’s even better to watch is sports thrive in times of uncertainty.

After months and months, not days and days, of absence, it flew back into our lives and re-took its place as if time was nothing more than a human construct. Liverpool lifted their first Premier League title, Real Madrid dethroned Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich did what Juventus and Bayern Munich do in Italy and Germany respectively as the world slowly moved towards an air of normality.

Then came European football and boy has it not rocked our world again to its very core. Who would have thought it?  Mini World Cup-esque tournaments held in Germany and Lisbon for safety reasons as the Europa League and the Champions League respectively sliced and diced to find the perfect solution in a congested season. The plan they came up was single leg knockout stage football instead of the usual UEFA mandated two-leg system and boy hasn't that been a hit.

It has seen many ask that the two-leg system be scrapped and instead replaced by this on a more permanent basis although no-one has figured out what they’ll do with the home and away system. But that’s beside the point because the fact of the matter is that the winner of both the Champions League and the Europa League need to have an asterisk by their name. The mere mention of asterisk might blow up in certain circles but the mention of the asterisk is an unwelcome thing.

Nobody likes it and the mere imagination of it meant that Roger Maris’ record, one quick google search away, was taken away from him until after he died. It’s caused serious problems but it’s only fair to all those who have sacrificed everything to play in the Champions League, only to endure this. You can’t say the same about the league seasons, those that finished theirs, that is because the teams walked out of lockdown and played their required 36 or 38 or 46 games. It’s why Liverpool won’t get the moniker “asterisk champions” even though Jurgen Klopp has asked the world to do just that.

Because they finished their season and that doesn’t, technically, apply to either the Champions League or the Europa League. Why? Well, one because of the 16 teams that took part in both tournaments, only two didn’t walk into Germany and Lisbon having played an insane amount of football in the space of one-ish month(s). The Ligue 1 season was ended prematurely alongside the Eredivisie and the Jupiler Pro League although only France had teams left in either competition.

That means 14 teams played about 11 games or so that were initially supposed to take place over three months in the space of 40 something days of football. But these are professional footballers who are essentially athletes at peak fitness levels so they recovered enough to play at a decent level. But for the smaller clubs, it has been hell with injuries piling up before the season ended, especially since they didn’t have the facilities and access to the equipment that the more elite sides had.

Now for a side like PSG and Olympique Lyon it’s fine because having watched them over the last week or so, you can see the difference in fitness between them and their opponents. But for teams like Atalanta, FC Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk, FC Copenhagen, Wolves and even Sevilla, it has caused genuine problems. They’ve looked leggy, exhausted and at times have struggled to compete against their opponents although credit where due because somehow Sevilla managed to overcome Manchester United.

FC Basel, on the other hand, were taken apart by Shakhtar who were taken apart by Inter Milan with PSG doing the same to Atalanta. Manchester United, meanwhile, did it to FC Copenhagen. Even then, it took the Red Devils a penalty won in extra-time to beat them. But that’s where point two comes into play because these are all sides that don’t have, or at least aren’t filled, with players who’ve thrived in a competition like this.

Bayern Munich have, Barcelona have, RB Leipzig have, Atletico Madrid have, Inter Milan have and so do Sevilla for that matter. Players who have played in a single legged knockout stage competition where the heat was truly turned on and the pressure breaks the best of the best, aka a World Cup. Euros would apply to this as well but the magnitude and reach of a FIFA World Cup is at par with what the world has witnessed over the last week or so.

It has effectively handed teams the chance to play bang average football for most of a game and then be perfect for the few moments where it is actually needed, which allows them to walk away with scrappy wins. Take the sitter Raheem Sterling missed and then a much harder chance for Moussa Dembele at the other end. 9 times out of 10 you would have banked Sterling on hitting that and Dembele missing it but when it came to the moment to be perfect, one man took it and the other didn’t’.

Now this is the exception to the rule but even then, it’s hard to look past Dembele’s past as a youngster for France which has helped hone his skills. Perfection in moments makes 89 minutes of a terrible performance disappear in an instant but teams who’ve played in World Cups know how to do it when the pressure of an entire country is on them. It’s soul crushing and has led to some drastic results at times but it helps hone and train a player to ensure they make the most of what they are given.

That is something that the smaller sides do not have in numbers, especially like the way a Bayern Munich or an Inter Milan do, and like everything there are exceptions but that doesn’t take anything away from the need for an asterisk. People look at it like it’s the worst thing on the planet and sometimes, when it concerns records, they just might be. But this entire season has been something else altogether and it has seen both the Champions League and Europa League brought down to a mere skeleton of a tournament.

They’ve been chopped and changed, the home advantage has been taken away – and done so rightfully, – and a knockout stage that would have taken nigh over three months has been squashed into three odd weeks. It’s not the same because an Atalanta should have been given the chance to play their first-ever quarter-finals over two legs. A FC Copenhagen should have had their chance to try and get one over Manchester United with the same applying to Wolves, Atletico Madrid and the Red Devils as well.

It’s why the asterisk is needed and given its negative connotations across sports, this is the chance to change the tone and help provide context. Because for those looking back 30, 40, 50 or hell even a 100 years back into the past, context will be key and if anything needs context, this season does.

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