Friday, 9 November 2007

Harry Redknapp has a go at the Champions League

...from the sun

clipped from

Euro Cup? More like the Carling


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Published: 08 Nov 2007

THIS may sound odd but isn't the Champions League getting a bit boring?

Liverpool's record 8-0 win against Besiktas had the whole Continent chattering but on reflection, it is not really a good advert for Europe's leading club competition.

Just a few weeks ago Arsenal ran out 7-0 winners against Slavia Prague.

The Champions League seems to be suffering from a condition similar to Climate Change: unusual events are becoming commonplace.

It is because of the huge disparity between the teams and, moreover, what I regard as the monotonous, plodding group stage.

There has been a huge expansion of the competition, providing the big clubs with a buffer in the first phase to ensure they go through to the second round, when it at last gets interesting after nearly six months of matches.

It is not that teams like Slavia Prague and Besiktas do not deserve their chance, even though they only finished second in their leagues last season. England has four teams entering every year.

The difference is any one of them are capable of winning the damn thing.

Take Arsenal. Arsene Wenger let star names Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky, Kolo Toure and Aleksandr Hleb stay at home and watch last night's game on TV because the club is so comfortable in Group H they can afford to take it easy.

Great viewing for the public, then. The Champions League is fast replacing the Carling Cup as a stage for the reserves to enjoy a few days in a pretty, foreign town and a run out.

Ironically, Chelsea pulled in just 24,000 for their Group B game against Rosenborg in September, while the Carling Cup match with Leicester on Halloween was a near full house — no coincidence in my mind that it's because the result had to be decided on the night.

Liverpool's situation was unique on Tuesday. Having lost 2-1 in Istanbul to Besiktas two weeks ago, the five-times European champions were fighting for survival at Anfield.

It meant the return game suddenly took on the feel of the traditional, old knockout match — and that's why people were interested.

Imagine if Chelsea, who were embarrassed by a 1-1 draw with Rosenborg, had been forced to travel to Norway a fortnight later fighting for their European lives in the frozen north, desperately needing to win and win well to overcome the away-goals rule.

What looms is a few weeks of meaningless practice games, where the fans will pay top prices to watch teams already through to the second round — or already doomed.

It is a laboured argument but one that is gathering momentum. I am speaking not as a manager and member of the football fraternity, but as a punter who likes to watch exciting games on TV, simple as that.

Chelsea had an off night in Germany against Schalke, getting a 0-0 draw after being battered. But what is the lasting effect?

Boss Avram Grant summed it up: "We are still top of the group." How exciting. Can't wait to watch them shuffle across the finish line in December and join, funnily enough, all the other big teams in the last 16.

The UEFA Cup is suffering the same syndrome and my Portsmouth could well be in it next season.

I am old-fashioned, after all I am in my 60s, and I know the super clubs' chief execs would be dead set against reverting to the old format.

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