Champions League: A Crash Course

By: Alfonso Duro

In Europe, September means one thing and one thing only to football fans: the beginning of the UEFA Champions League—the tournament that brings together the best players and teams on the planet, a competition whose multilingual anthem can make many a grown man cry. But how did it get so far? How did it become the best damn tournament on the planet? Let’s see.

IT GOES WAY BACK. The UEFA Champions League has been disputed in its current format since 1992, but before that, the European Cup had been the toughest title to win in the world for a while. Its direct precedent is the European Cup, a tournament born in 1955 out of other international tournaments like the Latin Cup, the Coupe des Nations and the Mitropa Cup, which go back as far as 1927.

THE BEAUTIFUL BUSINESS. But if there’s one thing UEFA has done well with this tournament over the years it is the fact that they’ve managed to change with the times, while maintaining a profound respect for its history. The competition has slowly evolved to become the perfect paradigm of a business/tournament that greatly rewards participation while still remaining profitable at its core. Its economic impact is so big that that for the biggest clubs, competing in the Champions League has become a do-or-die situation for their financial spreadsheets (just ask Manchester United’s CFO). But also, the Champions League has nailed the perfect format by giving the 32 top teams on the continent (not only local league champions anymore) the chance to prove their worth against the rest of the crop. Right now, there’s no better way to tell your biggest rival “I own you” than beating them in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

TALENT IS KING. But what is a good structure without the right talent? Nothing. The ultimate success of the Champions League rests on the fact that the best players in the world compete head-to-head in it every season, and that makes TV audiences, advertising dollars and football passions reach unimaginable heights. In what other tournament can Simeone beat Mourinho at his own game? Where else can you see Pastore channel his inner Diego Maradona at the Parc Des Princes? Or—more disturbingly—see Ronaldo mimic Chuck Norris?

EVERY YEAR IS THE BEST YEAR YET. The ever-growing competitiveness of the Champions League makes every year different, yet more appealing to fans. After last season’s heart-attack final in Lisbon between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, this year we’ll get to enjoy Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez playing together in Barcelona, while we’ll also have a Group of Death involving Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Roma and CSKA Moscow. We’ll see if the addition of Alexis Sánchez to Arsenal is enough to top Borussia Dortmund this time around, if Balotelli can score for Liverpool (on the pitch this time) and if Ludogorets’ Cosmin Moţi is a better defender than he is a goalkeeper.

All of that kicks off this Tuesday, at 2:45pm ET. Tune in early, though, so you don’t miss that hypnotizing official Champions League hymn.

LOGISTICS: UEFA Champions League, official website

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.