Why Liverpool v Real Madrid is the final European football deserves


The European Cup has ended up with a final worthy of the name. Real Madrid versus Liverpool in Paris ticks a lot of boxes – the main one being it is actually pan-European. That may be of little comfort to Manchester City as the ashes are raked over after another nearly-but-not-quite Champions League season and the exorcists assemble to try to rid Pep Guardiola of his continental curse, but it is true.

While an all-English final would have carried an all-consuming domestic appeal, it would have been as unpalatable from the standpoint of a truly European cup as an all-Spanish affair would have been had Villarreal made it through. Technically it is not the European Cup any more, it is the Champions League, but the premise should still be a glorious celebration of European football’s diversity. A second successive all-English final would have been a distinctly unhealthy look.

The financial imbalances across Europe’s leagues already make the tournament far too restrictive. Long gone are the days when a European Cup final might have involved a club from Romania, Sweden, Greece or Scotland, as it did in the past. Of the past 25 finals, only one has featured a side from outside the big five leagues of England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France – the 2004 edition when Jose Mourinho worked his magic with Porto.

But some semblance of variety is better for the tournament, viewer and European football as a whole – hence why the Super League and historic qualification coefficients were, and are, such bad ideas. For all of Liverpool’s multi-front magnificence and the epic drama of the City-Real contests, the most heartening aspects of this season’s competition were little Villarreal’s run to the semi-final and Sheriff Tiraspol’s victory over Madrid in the group stage. To even reach that far the Moldovan champions had to start their season on July 7.

Their inclusion represented the ideals the competition’s founders surely had in mind. When L’Equipe selected the 16 teams to compete in the first European Cup in 1955-56, it was called the European Champion Clubs’ Cup. What mattered was not the wealth and pulling power of the respective leagues but the plurality of the competition.

Not every champion wanted to take part but the tournament ended up with teams from 16 nations. There was no English representative – Chelsea agreed to take part but performed a U-turn under pressure from the Football League – but there was one from Saarland, which was integrated into West Germany two years later.

While that inaugural European Cup might not have been entirely reflective of the continent’s elite, it at least had a guaranteed international final which saw Real Madrid beat Reims 4-3 in Paris. That was the way until the fateful decision to allow multiple entrants from countries in 1997-98.

The first one-nation final followed when Real Madrid beat Valencia in 2000, since when there have been eight in all, including last season’s between Chelsea and City.

Real Madrid versus Liverpool is not entirely in keeping with the original blueprint – neither won their domestic league last season – but within the boundaries of the competition as it has become it is the best result European football could have hoped for.


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