The desire for European glory is now apparent in all clubs. This season we have seen the likes of Ajax trying to fulfil their purpose by regaining the prestigious trophy that was once theirs. The 2018/19 Champions League has provided some of the most entertaining matches we are ever likely to see. The 2nd leg of the quarter-final tie between Manchester City and Tottenham is an example of how much European success means to these sides. Every season, each club has goals they hope to achieve. This raises the question – does domestic success even matter to most clubs? Or is it all about Europe?
Ask yourself this, if Tottenham were to win the Champions League and Man City were to win a domestic treble, who would have had the greater season?
The most established sides in Europe have never been as honest as they are now about how little they care about domestic glory. The most successful club in the history of football, Real Madrid, will judge their season simply on the fact of whether they lift the Champions League or not. They could win the La Liga with record points and bag the Copa del Rey while they’re at it…but if they do not win the Champions League then the season has been a disaster!
And it is no longer just Los Blancos that judge their season this way. Bayern Munich can win their league but will deliberately not celebrate the achievement until they have gone as far as they can in the Champions League. By the time they have been eliminated, they certainly don’t feel that a celebration for their domestic title is worthy.
More than ever now, clubs are throwing every penny they have at the worlds greatest players in order the write their club’s name into the European history books. Although they have embarrassed themselves in the process, you cannot fault the efforts made by PSG to win the Champions League. The purchases of Neymar and Mbappe were fantastic acquisitions for the purpose of igniting fear into the opposition. But looking dangerous and scary is obviously not all that is required at the highest level. The lack of European progress means every season is a bad season for PSG whether they are openly honest about it or not.
Even a club with such ancient values as Juventus are now bored of their domestic dominance. All that they can do to improve is win the Champions League. A respected club for their iconic style is now seeking the help needed wherever they can find it. Of course, they have acquired more than just a little helper. Although Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously one of the best and possibly the best player in the world, most clubs would not see the value in paying £100 million for a 33-year-old. Juventus did see the value. And although ‘Project Ronaldo’ has not engraved Juventus’ name on the Champions League trophy this season, they will have as good a chance as ever during these next three years.
And speaking of Ronaldo, it must be said that it is not just clubs that judge their season based on their European accomplishments. Cristiano Ronaldo understands that if you win the Champions League, you have a much greater chance of winning the Ballon d’Or. For Ronaldo, these two awards go hand-in-hand. His great rival, Lionel Messi, has been also been very open with his desire to bring the Champions League trophy back to Barcelona. At the beginning of the season, Messi made a promise to all Barca fans that himself and everyone at the club will do everything in their power to win the illustrious trophy. Messi has said that it has been too long since Barcelona were at the top of European football. This indicates that Messi understands a La Liga title does not make the same impact on your club or the rest of Europe as a Champions League does.
Who remembers the sight of Neymar when Man Utd sent the French champs out? The Brazilian superstar has no problem in showing that if he is not playing in the Champions League then he would rather not play at all. Just like Ronaldo at Juventus, Neymar was brought in to win the Champions League. His record transfer fee will only be justified if European glory comes with it.
It also must be stated that winning a European competition is not the only form of European success. Much poorer teams have the almost impossible task of getting far in either of the two European competitions. Take a side like Celtic, who are on the verge of winning a domestic treble-treble. They are likely going to win all 9 trophies that have been on offer in Scotland for the last three years. However, this achievement to many Celtic fans doesn’t even come close to some of their greatest successes in the club’s history. A large number of the Celtic supporters would rather see the club focus on progressing further in Europe. And of course, that does not mean lifting a European trophy. An achievement such as reaching the last 16 of the Champions League or the semi-finals of the Europa League would bring far more joy and produce a far more exciting experience than simply winning treble after treble in Scotland. Every Celtic fan will tell you that the greatest time in Celtic’s history was when they lifted the European Cup in 1967. No domestic success will ever supersede this achievement.
Some people say it is simply too much to ask their clubs to achieve success in Europe. But there is a simple reason why the same clubs do well in Europe. It is not because of the bigger transfer budget they may have or because they can attract the best players. It is because they know how to prioritise. Just look at the last three Champions Leagues. Who won them? Real Madrid, Real Madrid and oh yes…Real Madrid. The Spanish giants prioritised the Champions League over the La Liga and Copa del Rey. They have the clearest vision of the hierarchy of football trophies.
The most decorated side ever achieved their success by prioritising their games according to the hierarchy of football trophies. They established that the Champions League is the be all and end all. Nothing has more importance and risks will never be taken in the attempt to multitask. The second priority is the league. This is the competition that you get to enjoy a long-term battle with your close rivals in the pursuit of bragging rights. At the bottom of the hierarchy is the domestic cups. These trophies should only have the club’s focus when a treble is a real possibility. Otherwise, these games should only be the priority of much smaller teams.
There are those that would not agree with this hierarchy of trophies. An argument that is often made for the domestic leagues is that it requires consistency. Some would say that it is tougher to play well over the course of 38 games instead of playing great in one-off games that could be influenced by luck and mistakes. This is a very lazy argument that doesn’t stand up to the evidence. Remember there is a reason the same clubs keep winning the European trophies. Are Real Madrid always getting lucky? It is obvious that the great European sides are not blessed with luck and everyone else has not been cursed with failure. It is the ability to do what you need to do in 90 minutes that make these teams special. The ability to win a one-off game is what makes a team great…not consistency.
By Ross Ringsell