The UEFA Champions League – Europe’s Premier Club Competition
Legends are made, and heroes are born in the UEFA Champions League. It represents the pinnacle of the club game in Europe and success on the field becomes the peak of many players’ careers. Only the World Cup comes close in terms of prestige. Winning serves as the yardstick for any side with claims of being one of the best of all time.
A Competition Steeped in European Football History
Following on from the success of an equivalent South American competition in 1948, the first iteration, then known as the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, took place in 1955. Perhaps foretelling what was to come, the final saw Real Madrid overcome Reims before going on to rank among the most decorated sides in the world. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1961 when ‘Los Blancos’ relinquished the title of European champions, as Benfica triumphed over Real’s close rivals, Barcelona.
Champions League – A Step into Modern Times
The UEFA Champions League, as we know it today, came into being as part of a 1992 rebrand. Previously reserved only for league winners from across Europe, the continent’s strongest football leagues can put forward up to four teams.
Teams from England to Estonia compete through qualifying to be part of a season’s Champions League proper, where the initial 79 entrants are whittled down to the 32 to participate in the group stage. Sixteen teams emerge and battle it out over two-legged knockout ties until just two remain. Third-placed finishers in each group drop down into the Europa League which, while the closest associated competition, often falls behind domestic league performances in importance.
To the European Victor Go the Spoils
The UEFA Champions League ranks among the richest prizes in football. Any team that goes all the way in the competition can expect a windfall in excess of €80 million. Even reaching the group stage and winning one game boosts a club’s balance sheet by over €17 million, ensuring a hero’s welcome for players from smaller nations that overperform.
Victory in the competition also guarantees qualification for the next edition of the tournament. The champions also face off against the winners of the Europa League in the UEFA Super Cup and other continental champions in the FIFA Club World Cup.
All-Time Football Greats
Champions League success isn’t a precursor to greatness. Diego Maradona never won the tournament, while Pele never even played in Europe. However, modern greats like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo owe a large part of their reputation to success in the tournament.
Great teams are born in the competition too. Real Madrid‘s winning streaks of the 1950s and 2010s are the source of tantalising football information and factoids. Ajax’s performance in 1995 created an entire squad of legends. The tournament has helped to establish the likes of AC Milan, Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich as iconic brands around the world.
Most of the biggest names of the football information archives have played their part, and many more will spring to life under the banner of this illustrious competition.