ONCE upon a time, a football cup draw was conducted in an oak-panelled room, cigar smoke swirling, and the reassuring muffled sound of snooker balls being shaken in a velvet bag. It felt like some ancient, secretive ritual, one that could easily have been performed by dark-suited Masons or an elite cult.
We’ve moved on, of course, but today, a cup draw can be complex, mathematical and somewhat superficial. Want to complicate something that should be fairly simple? Ask UEFA to arrange it.
This year’s Champions League group stage draw went to new lengths of tedium, an hour and a half of game show presentation, fronted by a boy-girl partnership that was all white teeth, split skirts and a script right out of Alan Partridge. Someone ought to tell some of the guests that trainers and a well cut suit do not look good on everyone.
Admittedly, UEFA wanted to move on from a couple of grey-suited but amiable fellows who get wheeled out from the backroom every time there’s a cup draw, but moving it into the category of “every function is an event” did look like the governing body had been told to use up as much air time as possible.
And how many people truly understood the Champions League formula for working out the groups? No wonder the audience sat there dozing, some maybe looking at their watches and wondering how long they had to get to Istanbul airport for their return flight.
At the end of the day, one thing we do know about the Champions League is that the groups comprise the same old contenders and the minnows that make it through are there for cannon fodder. We all know that the pots will create eight groups of a seeded big guy (although this year, Pot 1 was clearly weaker than Pot 2), a tough opponent, one Europa-class team and a no-hoper. Unsurprisingly, you get a few “we’ve met before, haven’t we?” situations.
For example, Liverpool are more than familiar with Porto and Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig know the flight times to their respective cities quite well. Real Madrid and Shakhtar have been stable-mates a couple of times in the recent past and Bayern Munich are well aquainted with the city of Lisbon and Benfica.
But let’s dispense with making the UEFA Champions League an extension of the Eurovision Song Contest, it’s not necessary and do we really want this to evolve into a variety show involving dancers, pyrotechnics and orange hosts with immaculate white teeth? There’s surely a happy medium out there somewhere.