UEFA Champions League, Inc. – Truth or Conspiracy?

Posted: April 6, 2012 in World of Football

After the Benfica-Chelsea Champions League tie, a recurrent and disturbing impression assaulted my thoughts. I sensed the veracity of this stunning game violated one more time.

What caught my eye was the rush of the referee to turn a barely open clash into a match without any interest – the booking spree in the beginning was inspirational – by condemning a side to impotence due to the implications, but some heroic display from a shorthanded team kept it alive ’til the very end. I actually fantasize with the sweat dripping in some foreheads.

The truth is Javi García and Maxi were reckless, as John Terry was a week ago with his wings wide open like Vitória the eagle on Benfica’s badge. Surprisingly or not, at that time there were no consequences.

The theory now shared with you wasn’t founded on a single match where I felt the club I support being discriminated. Actually, in the previous round I sensed Mr. Howard Webb being discreetly complacent with Benfica and somehow harsh on Zenit. This sensation emerged a long time ago, first in FIFA tournaments and for some years now in UEFA.

And it is what it is, a theory weakly substantiated, based on assumptions and at high risk of sin for lack of objectivity. Not really my style as I like numbers and facts, however, I felt the need to share these concerns with someone.

UEFA may have considered that one English club should be in the semi-finals. After all, it’s the most profitable country in football finances’ world, so the noble organization couldn’t afford to lose that prominent market for the remainder of the competition. In Portugal there’s no money neither to ring the bells and if you think about the subject, what kind of interest could a Bercelona-Benfica semi-final spark in the UK? It could also signify a stain in the good name of the competition in Her Majesty’s lands. Therefore Chelsea would have to win no matter what.

I suspect that before every important Champions League match, particularly in knock-out stages, the officials are ‘instructed’ to, if necessary, ‘facilitate’ the victory of the side that will generate more income for UEFA. In recent years lots of us noticed match officials with different sets of standards, in favor of the stronger team.

On the other hand we have APOEL’s success, the early elimination of Manchester United or even the 2004 Monaco-Porto final as counter argument to this theory.

Well when Monaco-Porto final happened, the reigning bigwig wasn’t bossing around with his innovative philosophies. Man Utd was eliminated in group stage, not a big problem since other English clubs should go through. In these early stages it’s not transcendental if a big club goes down since there are others from the same country to keep that specific market. The APOEL case is easy to explain: the success of teams like APOEL and Basileia proves that Platini’s model to open Champions League to minor leagues winners was right. Besides, Lyon advanced through group stage surrounded by odd happenings, so something similar against APOEL would be yet a greater scandal.

So I can keep on with the conspiracy. If you remind the latter years’ editions, most of the controversy arrived in semi-finals matches, where the clubs which served UEFA best interests in that particular moment should reach the final. The Chelsea-Barcelona was the greatest example, but in the following years strange stuff happened too.

In the current edition unexpected events occurred earlier and the picture was complicating even more: after losing Italy on Tuesday, if Chelsea was eliminated, they would lose England too. This hypothetic scenario would create a big hole in the accounts and could affect the impeccable status of the competition, so someone must have been a bit scared and treated to avoid more surprises as quickly as possible. This is an industry after all, and many millions are at stake, so like in any other business, valued are the renown and benefits as the sporting merits play a secondary role.

Barcelona-UEFA link

The Barcelona case is actually funny since everybody is talking about a polemical connection, but that’s not quite it. I don’t believe in UEFA benefiting one or another club deliberately, this surges at some point as direct consequence of the protection of prestige, reputation and commercial interests of this exclusive and extremely hard to win tournament.

In fact, since the competition has adopted the designation of Champions League, no team was able to win it twice in a row. Something that must be easy to achieve for Barcelona as they’re one of the best sides ever, nevertheless after the 2009 Stanford Bridge scandal, in 2010 semis against Inter the impaired were them. Finally, last season was their time of glory again as they deservedly beat – even so with the typical arbitral help – the only team who could stand a chance to defeat them, Real Madrid.

So if I had to predict this year’s champion, Barcelona wouldn’t be my first guess, unless UEFA is ready to permit 2 consecutive victories, demystifying a little the character of the competition. After all, this may well be the greatest team in the rich history of this sport.

I honestly hope that all of this is bulls*** as we’re talking about the supreme competition of clubs in the whole world, one that year after year offers us – the lovers of this beautiful game – intense roundabouts of emotions, but what I observe when the competition reach these final stages are referees with double standards and the worrying suspicion that invades my brain makes me fear for the truthfulness of everything involving The Union of European Football Associations.

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