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All Things Footie | Friday, August 30 | Jordan

Champions? League

The usual cry from the manager who wins the Premiership each season, ‘The Champions League should just be for Champions’. While I can see the point being made, partly smugness and partly simple understanding of the word Champions — I think it already is just for champions. What do these clubs have in common; Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Barcelona, AC Milan, Lokomotiv Moscow, Celtic, Shakthar Donetsk, Sturm Graz, Sporting CP and Rosenborg?

Answer? They have all won their domestic league at least once in the last 3 years, making them all Champions (albeit not this year) in my eyes. Each of these clubs did suffer a penalty for not winning last year though, they all had to qualify for the Champions League (some did win and still suffered). I've always thought the format of Europe's finest competition lends itself to being a long term aim, most of the time the title has been won by a team that didn't win their own domestic league that year — which is surely worse than winning it the year after you didn't win your league?

Real Madrid only finished third in La Liga last year, can you be the best club in Europe but not in Spain? When they won the same trophy in 99/00 and 97/98 they only managed 5th and 4th place respectively, they wouldn't even have qualified for the Champions League had they not won it! Barcelona failed to win La Liga in 96/97 and Juve failed to win Serie A in 95/96. The only recent exceptions that come to mind are Manchester United's treble achievement in 98/99 and Bayern Munich's in 00/01, which makes them all the more special.

Looking at the draw there are some humdingers as always in the first round. I certainly wouldn't fancy being in Bobby Robson's shoes and poor Lens may spend a lot of time being consoled in the coming months. That said, there's no reasons the smaller clubs in those two groups won't hold their own, and that's what makes them such thrilling prospects. With Newcastle facing trips to the Ukraine and the Stadio Delle Alpi though, away points in Holland will be needed as well as some good results at St James' Park. If there's any set of supporters that can intimidate away teams its the followers of the magpies though, and I fancy them to sneak through at the expense of Feyenoord.

As for the other English clubs, it's no surprise to see Manchester United drawing the easiest of the four — Leverkusen wont be the same team this season without Michael Ballack and Ze Roberto, arguably their two best players.

Arsenal may be in for a surprise with Borussia Dortmund, who recently signed the talented Torsten Frings and have the man mountain Jan Koller leading the line. Likewise PSV have two of the most touted footballers of the summer in Mark Van Bommell and Kevin Hofland, as well as the highly rated but strangely named Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. There's no doubt that PSV's forward line is one to be reckoned with too, Mateja Kezman and Arnold Bruggink both have a fantastic record and are likely to cause the Gunners' slightly wobbly defence no end of problems. The less said about Auxerre's French prodigies Djibril Cisse and Phillipe Mexes the better.

In Liverpool's group, Valencia's European record is fantastic, and the away game at Moscow will be tricky no matter how good the Russians are at football. I do however fancy them to get through — it could be four up for England in their first season of entering a quartet into the most sought after club trophy in the World.

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