let me dream a little dream…

 

had a really bad week and lost one year out of his contract: bayern coach louis van gaal, great in football, bad in relationships...

bayern munich is in a crisis. in the most important week of the season so far, the most successful team in germany lost their bundesliga home match against virtual champions borussia dortmund by 1×3. the win was deserved for dortmund, but bayern wasn’t really worse, they were unlucky in front and had some mistakes in the back. this season, it has been a normal occasion that almost every defensive mistake results into a goal against bayern, maybe with the exception of the internazionale match in the champions league.

after that disappointment, bayern would entertain schalke 04 at home, for the german cup semifinal; last year, in the same matchup, bayern beat schalke in gelsenkirchen with a dream-goal by arjen robben; but robben wasn’t able to deliver, always playing against to oponnents in the defense, and bayern lost after a goal early in the first half. this time, bayern was the better team, but they just didn’t manage to score a goal, which would probably have seen them through. the pressure was on for the next match, since bayern had fallen to 4th place in the bundesliga, right behind hannover 96, and need at least 3rd place to qualify for the champions league. qualification for next year’s european competition is a must, since the final will be in the allianz arena in munich, and bayern wants to be there. and the team wouldn’t disappoint; one can lose the cup, and even to be beaten by borussia dortmund this season is no real bummer, although it is an image problem, since bayern claims to be germany’s number one. but the matches before those two defeats were almost all very well played, and mostly won – even the deserved 1×0 victory against the holding champions of europe, internazionale milano. so this away match against 3rd placed hannover was a good way out of a mini-crisis, getting 3rd place back with a convincing win.

 

possible or even likely coach for 2011/12 season? jupp heynckes, bayern coach from 87-91 and in 2009, and a good friend of club president hoeness (left)

but what happened was the worse of the three defeats. hannover deserved the victory even more than dortmund a week earlier, and 3rd place is now 5 points away, with 2nd place (guarantees a spot in the group phase) now a whopping 7 points away (bayer leverkusen). uli hoeness, who really doesn’t like his dutch coach louis van gaal, had said in an interview in the beginning of the year that if 2nd place came into danger, things might get complicated for the coach; he even mentioned jürgen klinsmann’s sacking two years ago, as a warning example.

after the defeat in hannover, president hoeness left with only one comment: “now is no time to talk, it’s time to act”. it can’t get much clearer than that. but since karlheinz rummenigge, bayern’s boss, is responsible for the decisions, reason beat emotion.

 

hoeness' and my dream coach after 2012: jürgen klopp, currently borussia dormtund.

yes, bayern has lost three key matches, and in a row – first time this happened in 11 years. and it does seem that louis van gaal is to stubborn to change his tactics, which have not only been figured out by the opponents, but also finally reacted to, tactically. it seems that you only need to double robben and ribéry on both sides, have a midfielder follow müller, and another one attacking the defensive midfielder who has the ball, either schweinsteiger or luiz gustavo (prajnic); since those are loosing balls due to the pressure, the opponents have been able o create counter attacks, and most of them have been deadly; i wouldn’t even blame the defenders, it just is a very offensive tactic that van gaal follows, in his persuit of attractive football. schweinsteiger, lahm and badstuber have been out of form lately, and brazilian defender breno spoiled his increasing chances with his red card in hannover.

bayern munich decided not to sack louis van gaal, but he will leave the club at the end of the season. van gaal is a brilliant coach, maybe the best football teacher bayern has ever had. but his personality is a problem; his arrogance has made things difficult with quite a few players who left the club because of him (lucio, van bommel, demichelis) and with some that still are in the team (butt, van buyten, ribéry and even robben). van gaal has a tendency to criticise players who he feels are being too celebrated by the media (as done recently with young goalie kraft or earlier with thomas müller); he also thinks he’s always right, which makes life difficult with his bosses christian nerlinger (team manager), kalle rummenigge (club boss) and uli hoeness (club president), all ex-internationals and highly decorated football specialists. this without mentioning honorary president franz beckenbauer! his inability to have that extra sensibility for situations and feelings have cut his stay at bayern shorter than expected, and this is sad.

 

why not jogi? löws contract with germany ends after euro 2012; maybe he wants to go back to club football after that?

but it is also an opportunity. van gaal can’t win the bundesliga or the german cup on his way out, but he is proud enough to do everything he cans to leave on top – with a champions league title! he reached the final last year (besides winning both titles he’s lost this year), but lost the final to inter; next tuesday, bayern has a huge chance to eliminate inter and continue to dream of the title. and after these turbulent days, either everyone (players and coach) reacts in a negative way (the coach has been demoralized, the players don’t feel they need to follow him) or in a positive way – now or never! bayern’s chances of winning the champions league, in my optimistic opinion, have just increased with these three defeats and the whole debate about sacking van gaal; and the players will surely want to show character, since other defeats will only lead to the conclusion that the team is weak in personality.

the second dream concerns who might join bayern. ideally, jupp heynckes (or even ottmar hitzfeld) would join bayern munich for a third stint. jupp is a close friend of uli hoeness and understands how the bayern family works. he’s pretty advanced in age and would only be able to stay for one season; currently, he’s been successful with bayer leverkusen, so he still has the goods. and after 2012, jürgen klopp or even jogi löw could take over as head coach, to start a new era at bayern. personally i’d hope for klopp, who is currenlty leading dortmund to a fantastic bundesliga title. after the glory, things might be complicated for him next season, and bayern would then grab him for 2012.

the other candidates being discussed are matthias sammer (i don’t want him), guus hiddink (great, but another dutch, really?), martin jol (also dutch, but i like his style and persona) or even frank rijkaard (yes, yet another dutchman). from the bundesliga, thomas tuchel would be kind of a bet, but i would sign on. no one has mentioned him yet.

but here’s the dream: champions league glory with van gaal, then a year of good old jupp, and finally jürgen klopp; but jogi löw would do, too. 😉

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Published in: on March 8, 2011 at 13:35  Leave a Comment  
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thank you, mark van bommel!

he will be missed: bayern's ex-captain van bommel announced the move o ac milan today.

i’ve been a fan of mark van bommel as a football player for a long time. since his days at psv eindhoven, mostly that semifinal campaign in the 2004/05 season, when the dutch player was a strong leader and led the team into the semifinal of the uefa champions league, alongside veteran phillip cocu. van bommel had started his career at fortuna sittard, from where he moved the the national top club at the age of 22. after his great season in 2005, fc barcelona hired the  high scoring defensive midfielder (around 60 goals in 320 appearances). it wasn’t the best of seasons for van bommel, who wanted more playing time at his prime age for playing football. although he played and won the uefa champions league final against arsenal in 2006, van bommel decided to move to bayern munich, hoping that he would get more playing time and still add some highlights to his career.

today, after 4 and a half great years for the club and a great performance last weekend, van bommel announced he’s leaving the club. at age 33 and quickly moving to 34, bayern had told their captain (since 2008) that he would not get a new extension. ac milan bought the “old” star, who is still younger than his landsman clarence seedorf and might replace him in the italian’s midfield. van bommel, who became national team captain after the world cup, probably received an 18 month contract. his role in the bayern family might someday bring him back to the club, though.

classic van bommel...

after all, the time at bayern did provide him with some career highlights, almost crowning it last may:

  • van bommel was elected bayern player of the season 2006-07, his first season at the club, beating favorites makaay, scholl and kahn
  • he won the bundesliga and the german cup in may of 2008
  • after oliver kahn’s retirement in 2008, he became the first non-german to captain bayern munich, selected by jürgen klinsmann and confirmed by louis van gaal in 2009.
  • in may 2010, van bommel won the bundesliga and the german cup for the second time, first time as the captain and the one to receive the trophies. he also played the uefa champions league final, which he lost to inter.
  • in july, he played in the world cup final, probably the biggest match in his career; he had a good tournament, but had a bad final, only appearing to the public due to his violent playing style

mark van bommel has earned great respect and admiration from bayern fans anywhere mostly for his behavior outside of the pitch, with his good humor, seriousness, wise words and natural leadership. his playing style is sometimes a little rough (and he gets a lot of yellow cards), but he has a great eye for passes into the holes of the defense and great organizational skills.

bayern need not worry, in terms of quality. luis gustavo will grow into an important role for bayern, anatoly tymoshchuk also deserves a chance in his favorite position; i even think the ukranian has a tad more quality to offer. and the hierarchy without the captain is okay, with schweinsteiger being the chef on the field, and lahm the new and good captain (great media work). for phillipp lahm, it is a dream come true: to become the captain of his home team, in his home town; almost more important than being captain of the german national team. but, as mentioned before, it is bastian schweinsteiger who will take over on the pitch.

bayern in the hands of the bavarian: captain lahm and chef schweinsteiger were both born in munich.

still, van bommel will be missed for the remainder of the season. i wish he’d stayed to try for a champions league title, but his decision to move to milan now is actually the best one for him, at his age. thanks for all, though.

(yes, if you didn’t know it, i am a bayern munich fan)

Published in: on January 25, 2011 at 13:06  Comments (1)  

louis van gaal and josé mourinho – alike, but still different

it’s quite a few months ago, now. 8 months, to be exact. louis van gaal and josé mourinho were at the sidelines in the year’s second most important final of the year. in the bernabeu, their clubs bayern munich and internazionale milan were playing the final. and those two trainers seemed so different; here the tall and pretty big dutch, there the shorter and smarter looking portuguese.

van gaal won the champions league with ajax in 95, eliminating bayern with a 5x2 in the semifinals...

actually, there not that different at all. and not at all trendy, either. everywhere in europe, the young coaches with clear concepts, humble but firm image and smart sentences are taking over more and more clubs; the money is short, and suddenly the coach becomes a more important figure to make the little money invested give out the maximum output. but mourinho and van gaal are different; and, to a certain agree, alike.

both had great success early in their career, with clubs that shouldn’t had it. mourinho formed a great fc porto team, which one the uefa cup and the champions league in the early 2000s; van gaal won the uefa cup and the champions league with ajax amsterdam almost a decade earlier. both counted on young and still unknown players, which all became pretty famous in their later career. both used the chance to get to a bigger club; mourinho joined english giants chelsea, van gaal went to fc barcelona. both had immediate national success, but difficulty to repeat european glory. this is were the career parallel ends. and where their story begins.

van gaal and mourinho working together at barcelona.

when van gaal was in barcelona, he made his translater josé mourinho his assitance coach. how were these two ego-maniacs able to work together? well, one was the boss, and in the position to be generous – van gaal loves to be generous, and he even gave mourinho full coaching opportunities. the pupil went on to work for fc porto, and the “master” was called by the dutch federation when barcelona didn’t want him anymore. we’ll come back to that, later.

mourinho beat van gaal in the champions league final last may.

van gaal had a historical football disaster as holland’s chef coach, and the netherlands didn’t qualify for the 2002 world cup. for van gaal, it was back to the beginnings after a few years out of business. he started at az alkmaar – and got them very close to the title in 2008, and to the title in 2009. there was no doubt, he was a fantastic football teacher. and he got his dream job back to a top club, at bayern munich, where they were looking for a football teacher.

mourinho was still having national success, now with inter in the serie a, but not in europe. little did the two men know that they would meet in may 2010, in the bernabeu, where mourinho now works.

one can say that the pupil has surpassed the master. career-wise, having coached chelsea, inter and now real madrid. in the champions league final, beating bayern 2×0. the duel is still on, but what do these two friends have in common?

mourinho, a winner for fc porto, too. and beloved!

mourinho and van gaal are completely convinced of their superior knowledge in all things football. everyone around, including journalists, get the idea that they’re amateurs, compared to these one-man-shows. real madrid is a huge club with gigantic history, and has stars like cristiano ronaldo, kaká, casillas and özil, but they are completely overshadowed by mourinho. he is the club, and he needs it to be that way. when something doesn’t work his way, be it outside or inside the club, the press will know. and the power is in his hands.

van gaal tends to make everyone around him feel a little dumber, too. he has that effect on people, since he is very convinced of his vision of football and of all of his decisions. he listens to others, but at the end he’ll do what he thinks is right, which normally remains unchanged. this is what he has in common with his former protegée – a high opinion of his abilities, with results to back it up. these coaches are becoming rare, but both van gaal and mourinho dominate their respective scenes.

but this is where we come to the differences, which are quite a few. it starts with the view of the sport: mourinho is more pragmatic and wants to win at any cost, even at cost of “beautiful football”; of course, he too likes the game played well, but he prefers to just simply win matches. both chelsea and inter got a reputation for playing defensively, on the fast counter-attack – and that’s how inter beat bayern in the 2010 champions league final. some say that he can’t do that in real madrid. mourinho says that will work with whatever player material he has, but at the end, real is mourinho – until he leaves (which he loves to play with, the idea of leaving). van gaal, on the other hand, wants to win and dominate; he is always in search of the perfect game, his teams always play with ball possession and try to attack. the normal system is to tire the opponents in the first half, and to finish off the match in the second.

another philosophical difference is that of players. mourinho is confident enough that he will remain to be the main star, so he is always in search for players that are ready to go in and win titles. van gaal prides himself in giving young players their first chances, many times against public and even internal opinion. the list of players he’s put on the pitch first is very long and extremely prominent. it’s part of what he does best. so he doesn’t really like big stars in his club, some say because he has to be the biggest star.

another difference is the leadership style. although both are absolute aplha-types, it seems that mourinho gets along better with the players; he seems to be able to communicate with them better, speak their language, motivate and convince them. he’s from portugal (were the wanting to win gene was developed), van gaal is dutch (domination and beautiful game); the success gives van gaal reason, the actual playing, not the communication off-field. van gaal is funny in his own way, but he has no closeness to players, simply because he’s not good at it. they all respect him, but they don’t love him like mourinho’s players do. this might be the biggest difference. both have total support within their squads currently, but everyone who leaves bayern has no warm words for van gaal (mostly players from southern countries).

having problems with his boss: van gaal and uli hoeness.

a further and final difference is the clubs their working for. real madrid has had lots of success with the philosophy of building up and international star team and winning glorious titles. it was like that in the 50s, and it still is like that now. so there is no “real” philosophy outside of buying, and the buying of mourinho is another example for that. this allows mourinho to totally dominate the team, since it has no historical values or traditions, per say – besides winning at any cost. bayern munich is very different, and quite unique in europe. club president uli hoeness, bayern president karlheinz rummenigge and manager christian nerlinger are all ex-players at bayern and for germany. hoeness has been at the club since the 60s, and the club is not used to having someone from the outside being a “one-man show”. louis van gaal is always very direct about his thoughts, and journalists, although slightley afraid of him, know how to take advantage. hoeness and van gaal will never become friends, and it might seem that the german is preparing a premature exit for his great dutch coach if the results don’t come. van gaal has become a coach that will only be able to stay if he has success – exactly what happened to him at barcelona. that’s spain’s only team with a tradition of how they want to play football, and some other values. they didn’t like van gaal’s natural arrogance, but he won them two la liga titles in a row. when it seemed who wouldn’t manage a third, he was fired; and that after bringing forth andres iniesta, carles puyol and victor valdez, amongst others. he did make the mistake of bringing in a bunch of dutch players and fighting with the biggest star (rivaldo), which he didn’t do at bayern. and i, as a bayern fan, would like van gaal to stay as long as possible. he’s just that good, and the players know it, too. but it seems that he can’t really control his ego in moments he should.

the funny thing is that both mourinho and van gaal are really nice guys, and most journalists will confirm this. funny, interesting and extremely capable of doing their job. but where for one, the one-man-show is part of his success story, for the other, it might be, once again, his downfall.

mourinho = real madrid

bayern will meet inter in the round of 16 of this season’s champions league. real madrid will try their revenge on olympique lyon, who eliminated them last season. interesting matches, for sure. and maybe a next step to a revenge in the final, between van gaal and mourinho?

fifa ballon d’or 2010: journalists wouldn’t have given messi the award!

in the spirit of the golden globes later today, i was having a look at the detailed votes for this years fifa balon d’or, won by my favorite lionel messi. for the first time, not only the votes of the world’s captains and coaches were taken into consideration, but also the journalist’s opinion, which i tend to see as the most exact one. i also don’t like the many votes coming from countries with no or little tradition in football, and maybe biased opinion (africans vote drogba, other small countries vote for the traditional best like cristiano ronaldo). so here, i present to you a more detailed look at fifa’s list, creating from it a fairer one, in my opinion. at the end, there were five clear favorites, garnering almost 80% of all votes.

forlan had a great world cup and a great european season right before that; he won the golden ball for the world cup's best player and has deserved be ranked the 5th in the world.

i picked out the votes of the captains from football nations that should have a say in this vote (i chose 48 nations), and this is the top ten based soley on their votes (5 points for first place, 3 points for second place and 1 point for third place).

10. cristiano ronaldo 9 points

9. mesut özil 10

8. didier drogba 12

7. xabi alonso 14

6. iker casillas 15

5. diego forlan 25

4. wesley sneijder 59

3. andrés iniesta 67

2. xavi 77

1. lionel messi 91

wesley sneijder was fantastic in this year's uefa champions league and had a great world cup, with two goals against brazil as high point. he came in 4th place in the official fifa vote.

well, the players clearly supported the idea of giving messi the prize. let’s look at the coaches from only relevant football nations. they normally imagine who they would like to have in their team, for whatever reasons. here are their top ten (considering 44 coaches):

9. david villa & xabi alonso 6

8. carles puyol 8

7. thomas müller 9

6. cristiano ronaldo 18

5. diego forlan 20

4. wesley sneijder 52

3. andrés iniesta 56

2. xavi 79

1. lionel messi 121

a very clear vote for messi, even clearer than that of the players. cristiano ronaldo gets twice the points here, compared to the players, and both thomas müller and david villa weren’t even mentioned by the players, but made the top  ten with the coaches.

barcelona playes the best club football of the world, spain is the best team in the world. iniesta and xavi are the heart of both teams; one is considered the best playmaker in the world, the other scored the world cup winning goal in the final against holland!

finally, here comes the list made by the journalists, who, as a job, evaluate the sport in the year and historically. let’s see wo they thought were the best ten in the world:

9. samuel eto’o & asamoah gyan 3

8. carles puyol 5

7. david villa 10

6. iker casillas 11

5. diego forlan 55

4. lionel messi 101

3. xavi 138

2. wesley sneijder 138

1. andrés iniesta 141

it is clear to see that the media weren’t really sure who to choose: sneijder was mentioned 46 out of 68 times, xavi had the most votes for first place (21), but iniesta would have a slim lead to win. messi is only fourth place in this vote, and almost everyone voted for three of the top five. this seems to be the most coherent list, to me.

he lost to germany with argentina, but was still voted the best by players and coaches around the world; only the media would have voted him 4th place, but he still came away with the win!

adding all of them together, this would be the final result for the fifa 2010 balon d’or:

21. miroslav klose (germany) 1

20. julio cesar (brazil) 2

19. asamoah gyan (ghana) 3

18. maicon (brazil) 4

17. cesc fabregas (spain) 5

15. bastian schweinsteiger & thomas müller (both germany) 11

14. didier drogba (cote d’ivoire) 13

13. mesut özil (germany) 13

11. arjen robben (netherlands ) & samuel eto’o (cameroon) 14

TOP TEN

10. david villa (spain) 16

9. xabi alonso (spain) 21

8. carles puyol (spain) 22

7. cristiano ronaldo (portugal) 27

6. iker casillas (spain) 27

5. diego forlan (uruguay) 100

4. wesley sneijder (netherlands) 249

3. andres iniesta (spain) 264

2. xavi (spain) 294

1. lionel messi (argentina) 313

maicon is the best brazilian (!), and six in the top ten are spanish players (!!) showing their supremacy in the world.

here a ranking by nation (in total, 10 nations were represented in these votings):

1. spain 649

2. argentina 313

3. netherlands 263

4. uruguay 100

5. germany 36

all in all, the combined vote of the ballon d’or (which used to be called european footballer of the year) and fifa’s world footballer prize is still not even enought, for my taste. i do think the right player won, but generally i believe journalists should have a greater say on who should be considered the best; the way to do that would be to give football nations more journalistic votes if they have more football tradition – it can’t be that there is only one english, german or brazilian journalist voting, compared to one of swaziland, uganda and french guinea!

top 50 clubs since 90/91: ranks 20-16

continuing our countdown to the best clubs of the last two decades, with their best three seasons in this period and the stars of those campaigns.

thierry henry, here still at as monaco!

20. as monaco (france), 12 seasons in europe

best season 2003/04: uefa champions league finalist, with fernando morientes, jérôme rothen, patrice evra and dado prso.

season 1993/94: uefa champions league semifinalist, with jürgen klinsmann, enzo scifo, youri djorkaeff, lilian thuram and emmanuel petit

season 1991/92: uefa cup winner’s cup runners up, with gheorge weah, youri djorkaeff and emmanuel petit.

francesco totti is as roma!

19. as roma (italy), 17 seasons in europe

best season 1990/91: uefa cup finalist, with rudi völler, aldair, thomas berthold and ruggerio rizzitelli

season 2006/07: uefa champions league quarterfinalist, with francesco totti, daniele de rossi, mancini, doni and christian chivu

season 2007/08: uefa champions league quarterfinalist, with francesco totti, daniele de rossi, mancini, doni and juan

juninho pernambucano was the center piece of the rise of lyonnaise football.

18. olympique lyonnaise (france), 15 seasons in europe

best season 2009/10: uefa champions league semifinalist, with lisandro lópez, michel bastos, hugo lloris, miralem pranjic and sidney govou

season 2005/06: uefa champions league quarterfinalist, with juninho pernambucano, grégory coupet, éric abidal, mahamadou diarra, florent malouda, tiago, john carew, fred and sylvain wiltord

season 2004/05: uefa champions league quarterfinalist, with juninho pernambucano, michael essien, sidney govou, mahamadou diarra, grégory coupet, éric abidal, florent malouda and sylvain wiltord (& nilmar)

one of three trophies in the 90s for the then called ac parma.

17. fc parma (italy), 13 seasons in europe

best season 1994/95: uefa cup champions, with gionfranco zola, faustino asprilla, dino baggio and fernando couto

season 1998/99: uefa cup champions, with gianluigi buffon, lilian thuram, fabio cannavaro, dino baggio, juan véron, enrico chiesa, hernan crespo and faustino asprilla

season 1992/93: uefa cup winner’s cup champions, with tomas brolin

didier dechamps with the first uefa champions league title in history, for marseille!

16. olympique marseille (france), 12 seasons in europe

best season 1992/93: uefa champions league winners, with fabien barthez, jocelyn angloma, marcel desailly, didier dechamps, abédi pelé, alen boksic and rudi völler

season 1990/91: uefa european cup finalist, with mozer, chris waddle, abedi pelé, laurent fourier, jean-pierre papin and dragan stojkovic

season 2003/04: uefa cup finalist, with fabien barthez, didier drogba and mathieu flamini

top 50 since 90/91: ranks 30-21

for these clubs, their two best seasons and major stars in those campaigns are quickly remembered:

30. glasgow rangers (scotland), 19 seasons in europe

best season 2007/08 – uefa cup finalist with barry ferguson and kevin thomson

season 1992/93 – uefa champions league 3rd place, with aleksey mikhaylichenko

29. lazio roma (italy), 14 seasons in europe

best season 1998/99 – cup winner’s cup winners with pavel nedved, marcelo salas, roberto mancini, alessandro nesta, dejan stankovic and christian vieri

season 1999/2000 – uefa champions league quarterfinalist, with sinisa mihajlovic, diego simeone, pavel nedved, dejan stankovic, and juan veron

28. bayer leverkusen (germany), 13 seasons in europe

best season 2001/02 – uefa champions league finalist, with michael ballack, zé roberto, lucio, and ulf kirsten

season 1997/98 – uefa champions league quarterfinalist, with emerson, ulf kirsten and jens nowotny

27. galatasaray istanbul (turkey), 17 seasons in europe

best season 1999/2000 – uefa cup winners with hakan sukür and gheorghe hagi

season 2000/01 – uefa champions league quarterfinalist with gheorghe hagi, jardel, and taffarel

26. spartak moscow (russia), 17 seasons in europe

best season 1990/91 – uefa champions cup semifinalist with tchertchessov, ivanov and radchenko

season 95/96 – uefa champions league quarterfinalist with yuri nikiforov

25. panathinaikos athens (greece), 19 seasons in europe

best season 1995/96 – uefa champions league semifinalist with krzysztof warzycha

season 2001/02 – uefa champions league quarterfinalist with giorgios karagounis, angelos basinas and antonios nikopolidis

24. dynamo kiev (ukraine), 19 seasons in europe

best season 1998/99 – uefa champions league semifinalist with andreij shevchenko and sergiy rebrov

season 2008/09 – uefa cup semifinalist with betão

23. fc paris saint-germain (france), 13 seasons in europe

best season 1995/96 – cup winners cup winner, with youri djorkaeff and raí

season 1994/95 – uefa champions league semifinalist, with raí, george weah and david ginola

22. benfica lisbon (portugal), 16 seasons in europe

best season 1991/92 – uefa champions cup 6th place, with cesar goncalves brito

season 2005/06 – uefa champions league quarterfinalist, with anderson polga, luisão, emmanuel petit, simão and giorgios kouragounis

21. werder bremen (germany), 15 seasons in europe

best season 1991/92 – uefa cup winners cup winners, with klaus allofs, wynton rufer, dieter eilts and marco bode

season 2008/09 – uefa cup finalist, with diego, naldo, tim wiese, claudio pizarro and mesut özil

the fifty best clubs of the last 20 years: ranks 50-31

502 different european clubs from 50 different european nations have played at least one first round match of any of the european cups organized by uefa. this list will have a short look at the 50 best clubs in this era, which can be described as the modern era of association football. the election of the world’s best player and the founding of the uefa champions league are in the beginning of this era, and so is the founding of many of these 50 european leagues, due to changes in nations and borders.

our look into the top 50 will begin with ten teams, their memorable seasons and key players involved in those seasons. memory lane for some of you who have been following european football for this long, and historical research material for those who’ve joined us fanatics recently.

first of all, though, a list of currently notable clubs who didn’t quite make the list, with their respective ranking:

153 – ssc napoli (italy), 144 – manchester city (england), 82 – tottenham hotspur (england), 63 – zenit st petersburg (russia), 56 – ac fiorentina (italy), 53 – hamburger sv (germany)

here we go:

50 – villarreal cf (spain) – 6 seasons in europe

best season 2005/06 – uefa champions league semifinalist, with juan ramon riquelme and diego forlán

49 – shakhtar donetsk (ukraine), 13 seasons in europe

best season 2008/09 – uefa cup winners, with luis adriano and fernandinho

48 – aj auxerre (france), 12 seasons in europe

best season 1992/93 – uefa cup semifinalist, with frank verlaat and corentins martins

47 – red star belgrade (serbia, before yugoslavia), 16 seasons in europe

best season 1990/91 – uefa european cup winners, with dejan savicevic and darko pancev

46 – aek athens (greece), 17 seasons in europe

best season 2002/03 – fourth round uefa cup, with theodoros zagorakis

45 – celtic glasgow (scotland), 15 seasons in europe

best season 2002/03 – uefa cup finalist, with hendrik larsson and paul lambert

44 – fc schalke 04 (germany), 10 seasons in europe

best season 1996/97 – uefa cup winners, with olaf thon and mark wilmots

43 – cska moscow (russia), 12 seasons in europe

best season 2004/05 – uefa cup winners, with wagner love and yuri zhirkov

42 – rosenborg bk (norway), 15 seasons in europe

best season 1996/97 – uefa champions league quarterfinalist, with bent skammelsrud

41 – sevilla fc (spain), 8 seasons in europe

best season 2005/06 – uefa cup winners, with frederic kanouté and luis fabiano

40 – steaua bucharest (romania), 18 seasons in europe

best season 2005/06 – uefa cup semifinalists, with nicolae goian and constantin nicolae dica

39 – olympiakos piräus (greece), 17 seasons in europe

best season 1998/99 – uefa champions league quarterfinalist, with predrag djordjevic

38 – sporting lisbon (portugual), 16 seasons in europe

best season 2004/05 – uefa cup finalist, with joão moutinho and liedson

37 – club brugge kv (belgium), 19 seasons in europe

best season 1992/93 – uefa champions league 6th place, with franky van der elst

36 – sparta prague (czech republic), 20 seasons in europe

best season 1991/92 – uefa european cup 3rd place, with vaclav nemecek

35 – deportivo la coruña (spain), 10 seasons in europe

best season 2003/04 – uefa champions league semifinalist, with mauro silva and walter pandiani

34 – girondins bordeaux (france), 14 seasons in europe

best season 1995/96 – uefa cup finalist, with zinedine zidane and bixente lizarazu

33 – rsc anderlecht (belgium), 18 seasons in europe

best season 1991/92 – uefa european cup 5th place, with luc nilis

32 – atletico madrid (spain), 10 seasons in europe

best season 2009/10 – uefa europa league winners, with diego forlan and sergio aguero

31 – feyenoord rotterdam (netherlands), 16 seasons in europe

best season 2001/02 – uefa cup winners, with pierre van hooijdonk and robin van persie

 

my most intense sport moments of 2010

notice that this is a personal list of how i perceived this year’s sport events. the most intense sport moments of 2010, in chronological order.

february 16, whistler (canada)

anastasiya kuzmina from slovakia had won the first gold medal of the olympic games in female biathlon, just two seconds ahead of german star magdalena neuner in her first olympic games. but right in the beginning of the pursuit race, neuner passes her rival and increases her advantage after two error-free shootings to an incredible advantage. in the fourth and last shooting, neuner makes her second mistake and kuzmina has a perfect shooting, but it is not enough -12 seconds advantage at the end give the young bavarian her first ever olympic gold medal.

february 21, whistler (canada)

in the 12.5 km mass start, only 13 of the 30 starters make a mistake in the first shooting – and neuner is one of them. after her perfect second shooting, she was now in 8th place, still dreaming of a medal, but another mistake in her third shooting made it look tough. thanks to a perfect fourth shooting and her incredible pace on the slopes, magdalena neuner manages the incredible and wins her second gold medal – an even more exciting race than the one five days earlier.

march 9, fiore (italy)

in a cold, windy day, the people from fiore were all there, seemingly. it was the greatest day in football for this italian town, that had had european glory, but never in the main competition, the champions league. to eliminate bayern would be their biggest success ever, and the players knew it; bayern couldn’t control the wind or the opponent, and early in the second half, fiorentina were up by 2×0. mark van bommel managed to score a lucky goal at the mark of 60 minutes, but the dream of extra time vanished only minutes later with jovetic’s second strike against a desolate defense, 3×1. the italians looked like the certain winners now, but just a minute later, arjen robben silenced the crowd with an incredible masterpiece of a shot. with luck and robben, bayern were through to the quarterfinals.

march 24, gelsenkirchen (germany)

what a semifinal match between schalke and bayern for the german cup. the kind of 0x0 that lifts the soul, good football and very nerve breaking. but even with the stress in the weeks before, and with only a few minutes to play in extra-time, arjen robben takes the ball, dribbles passed five people and concludes with a perfect shot – the goal of the year, and once again such a decisive one!

march 30, munich (germany)

it didn’t look good at all for the home team. rooney had scored an early goal, and bayern were trying to get the best possible result since then; they dominated the match, but weren’t able to convert their advantage into goals; only ribéry was able to score a goal against the favorites and 2008 champs, and that goal only came in the 77th minute. in stoppage time, the 3-minute mark was coming close as mario gomez won a ball against rooney in midfield and somehow got it to the united box, where evra lost orientation for a second and olic scored the most exctiting goal of this life. incredible! 2×1 and munich now had a chance!

april 3, gelsenkirchen (germany)

schalke against bayern – the decisive match for the title race in the bundesliga, where felix magath’s team could’ve made a great leap towards the title with a simple victory over their pursuers. bayern, though, scored twice in the first half, conceded a goal and got a red card very early in the game. but they were able to play the match so well and united that schalke did not have one goal scoring chance in the second half, running away with the victory and, finally, with the leadership in the table.

april 6, barcelona (spain)

lionel messi wrote his name in golden letters that evening. historians might call this the greatest performance ever by a football player, in history. against arsenal fc in the quarterfinals of the uefa champions league, messi’s game was near perfection even without scoring a single goal; but he scored four, after arsenal had scored the first goal of the match. 4×1 final score, four messi goals in a perfect night for the argentinian, who marked his name as the best of the world – and applied for the “best of all time” category, although he’ll need a world cup victory to state that claim.

april 7, manchester (england)

what a day. manchester seemed to show that olic’s last-second goal wouldn’t matter at all. they demonstrated modern, fast and agressive football in the first 45 minutes, scoring three goals even without a good rooney (but with a great nani), and even olic’s goal right before the break didn’t seem to change that fact. in the second half, bayern were more present, but still found it difficult to score what would be a decisive 2×3. but they did: corner kick ribéry, volley from 20 meters by robben – perfect goal, a third all-decisive goal of the year for the incredible dutch! after that, bayern controlled the game and manchester had no answers. olic’s goal from the first leg was worth gold, after all.

april 28, barcelona (spain)

the last ten minutes of fc barcelona’s semifinal second leg match against internazionale milan were some of the best sporting minutes of the year. inter had held  0x0 for a long time, and they could lose 0x1 and still advance to the final; but after piqué scored a beautiful goal, the nou camp became an inferno for the italian team (playing without a single italian player); attack after attack rolled onto julio cesar’s goal, and some luck was involved, mixed with a lot of talent. in stoppage time, barcelona scored for the second time, which would see the holders of the title advancing to the final. but the goal was disallowed, and inter advanced. what a match!

may 15, berlin (germany)

what a match. bayern played almost perfect football in the german cup final against holders werder bremen. beautiful, efficient, dominating, fast. 4×0 was the final score, and the second title was in the sack for bayern; trully a great moment for louis van gaal and his football philosophy.

may 22, madrid (spain)

the uefa champions league final was too important to really be a fantastic game. bayern had the ball possession, inter the wit and experience; diego milito and wesley sneijder made the difference on the positive side, daniel van buyten and martin demichelis on the negative one. 2×0 to inter, in a game that seemed more like a 0x0.

may 30, istanbul (turkey)

in the most exciting championship race in history, race 7 had everything to be spectacular. mark webber and sebastian vettel led the pack with equal points but more wins for the australian, who had just won monaco. alonso had 75 points, only 3 points behind the duo, and button had 70, with felipe massa at 61. lewis hamilton, the most spectacular driver of the year thus far, wasn’t even in the top five. and it was a battle between red bull and mclaren, between webber (pole man) and vettel, between hamilton and button. and between all four, who were racing on similar pace through the circuit during most of the race. vettel an edge faster than the leading team mate, and with hamilton pressing him. so he attemped a pass, encouraged by his mechanic – but webber didn’t know of it, closed the door, and the two drivers crashed. vettel was out, webber still managed third, but the race was not over; in sight of the red bull drama, mclaren advised their drivers to “save fuel”, in other words, hold positions. hamilton thought he was okay, but button still attacked him and passed with an incredible move. hamilton was determined not to let that happened and answered in specatular fashion. incredible! great race, and hamilton now emerged in third place in the standings – two places ahead of vettel, with mark webber still leading the pack.

june 11, johannesburg (south africa)

a pretty good opening match, but what  a goal by tchabalala, to erupt the stadium and the hearts of all african people. a singular moment in this sport year.

june 13, durban (south africa)

finally the world cup gets started in terms of quality. germany plays a perfect match and impresses the whole world with its incredible speed and light way of playing, a new kind of “beautiful game”. 4×0 against australia, who didn’t lose after that and had a good world cup in 2006. mesut özil, now at real madrid, appears to the world for the first time, even without scoring a goal – that’s how well he played.

june 23, london (england)

john isner against nicolas mahut. no one could have guessed that this might have been one of the most exciting moments in tennis history, but it was. round 1 in wimbledon, court 18. the match had started one day earlier, with four sets completed and a fifth set in need; darkness was the reason for the ending of the playing that day. basically what happened is that the american and the frenchman played the whole day and still didn’t find a winner between them, due to the rule that you have to outscore your opponent by two games in a grand slam fifth set match, no tie breaks allowed. 59-59 was the astonishing score after that day, and for the second time, darkness impeded that match to be concluded. the match was concluded a day later, with an incredible 70-68 scoreline.

june 23, pretoria (south africa)

another american victory on the same day, and what a victory: landon donovan’s deciding goal in stoppage time was one of the most deserving lucky strikes in this sports year and in any fifa world cup. the us had been denied a couple of decisive goals and would face elimination without the life-saving strike by the american soccer star.

june 24, johannesburg (south africa)

the reigning champions are eliminated in last place of their group, after a gripping second half in the match against slovakia, who qualified for the knockout stage with an incredible 3×2 victory – many beautiful goals, lots of drama and an italian team playing like it should have during the world cup only in the last 10-15 minutes. the typical too litte too late.

june 26, rustenburg (south africa)

asamoah gyan is a world cup star. he had a great group phase, but his decisive and beautiful goal against the us team kept african dreams alive, and it was in extra time after a 1×1 tie during the match. one could feel the whole continent united supporting the black stars.

june 27, bloemfontein (south africa)

arguably the best soccer match of the year. the first half was the best half of football i can remember watching, mostly because of the incredible performance of the german team in the first 35 minutes (and their 2×0 lead, more than deserving) and the great english performance after the 1×2, including the disallowed goal by frank lampard, the answer the the wembley-goal from 1966. germany shook, but didn’t fall. england’s pressure was on in the beginning of the second half, but after one of those incredible and fast moves, germany scored with müller. 3×1, and shortly thereafter, 4×1, again müller. a pitty that i watched that game by myself.

july 2, port elizabeth (south africa)

brazil had impressed me and the whole world with their focussed performances in the group phase. it was a different brazil, a more intelligent brazil, but a much less beautiful one. against chile, one could only come to the conclusion that this team could only beat itself, and that it wouldn’t. so brazil were favorites against holland, not only by tradition. and the first half was a demonstration of the new brazilian way of playing: very firm in the defensive midfield, combative, efficient and cool. the 1×0 advantage could have easily been a 2×0, holland had not even seen julio cesar in the match. but the brazilians beat themselves; a goalkeeping error by julio cesar, very rare indeed, enabled an own goal by felipe melo later credited to free kicker wesley sneijder. melo saw the red card after the whole team had become nervous, and the game was now gone. the netherlands dominated the second half and won the game, 2×1. brazil was out, and the country didn’t even care too much about it. a sign of how the public viewed the “new brazilian football”.

july 2, johannesburg (south africa)

what a match between ghana and uruguay, and what dramatic moments at the end. muntari had scored a beautiful goal right before the half time break, but forlan equaliezed in the beginning of the second half. ghana were stronger in he first half, uruguay had a better second half. but ghana was the team pressuring the south americans in extra time, and then it happened. after quite a lot of confusion in the uruguaian box, a defender saves from an shot, and a header is fished out of the goal by uruguay star attacker luiz suarez. red card, penalty, but no decisive 2×1 right before the penalty shootout. asamoah gyan could score it from the spot – but the ball hit the aluminium and went out. drama was not over, more penalties were one the program now. this time gyan scored, but two of his team mates didn’t – africa cried, uruguay celebrated – mostly bad-boy suarez.

july 3, cape town (south africa)

i’d watched argentina’s 3×1 win over mexico and was not impressed. no tactics, only talent. a lot of talent, sure. but enough to beat germany’s beautiful and efficient fast-paced way of playing the game? after 2 minutes, shooting-star and world cup golden boot winner thomas müller answered with the first goal. bastian schweinsteiger played the match of his life, eliminating lionel messi from the game and even organizing all attacking moves. he played it like a true quarter-back, and the runners scored another 3 goals. 4×0, and title favorites maradona were out. germany had convinced the world that they can actually play the most attractive football on the planet, not only the most efficient one.

july 7, durban (south africa)

germany couldn’t play. spain didn’t let them. it was as simple as that. and when germany finally started to have a little chance after after almost 70 minutes, the spaniards found their goal – after a corner, with a header. the deserving winner with perfect timing and somewhat boring, but extremely exact and perfect passing style. efficient enough for he germans not to get into the game at almost any time.

july 11, johannesburg (south africa)

there were only two good things about the final: it was thrilling and the right team won. the football was pretty poor, the netherlands weren’t even try to play football most of the time, which is totally contrary to the country’s football history and philosophy. they played more german than the germans, and they could’ve won – robben missed the decisive goal twice. but spain was strong in the beginning and in extra-time, in the rest of the match they were only able o control the game. the goal by iniesta was deserving, the title as well; the best team won!

august 29, spa-francorchamps (belgium)

this has always been my favorite race (and i plan to watch it live next year), and it didn’t disappoint; at least not in the spectacle, which had vettel trying to win the race. he was the fastest on the track, once again, and as it was getting dry, he tried to pass jenson button; but he crashed into him, provoking widespread criticism. lewis hamilton won the race and took over the lead of the championship after 13 races, ahead of mark webber. at this point, it seemed that the two of them would decide the title race, but things changed quite a lot after that.

october 4, newport (wales)

a ryder cup final day on a monday was uncharacteristic, and it is not every time that the decision goes to the last hole. the young american zach johnson kept the us-hopes alive, and their great final day seemed to be able to produce a historical comeback after trailing by three points on sunday. at the end, greame mcdowell kept his cool under enormous pressure: the us open champ of 2010 beat hunter mahan and gave europe another title in this, the arguably greatest competition in golf.

october 10, suzuka (japan)

fernando alonso had won the last two races and was back in the title race after a great end-of-summer run. japan was the last chance for sebastian vettel to still run for the title, with hamilton also in front of him and webber leading the standings. and he had a simply superb weekend (just like a year earlier) to claim a fantastic victory in the land of the rising sun. kubai kobayashi gave his home crowd an incredible show and made five passing moves, making it his own personal show and finishing in 7th. vettel had now passed hamilton, but alonso was still ahead of him – and so was leader and team mate webber.

october 24, yeongam (south korea)

the championship leader had held on to his lead without winning any of the previous four races, but this time, his nerves cost him the top spot. after a mistake, he crashed out and tried to take then-second placed fernando alonso with him, but actually hit nico rosberg. vettel now was the virtual leader, since he completely dominated the race; it would have been his first championship lead of the season, the sixth man to do so. but it was not to be, since his motor failed and alonso went on to win the race and become the runaway championship favorite. with only two races to go, vettel was a race victory (25 points) behind, webber only 11 points – a team order seemed the logical strategy for brazil and abu dhabi. but that also was not to be!

november 7, são paulo (brazil)

the podium was vettel, webber, alonso. which was curious in this order, since alonso remained on the top of the standings, only needing a second place in the emirates to win his 3rd title. but webber was denied the team order privilege, since his team mate still had slim chances himself. so vettel won an exciting brazil race, and went into the final race having to leave team mate webber and alonso behind him – and not only that!

november 14, abu dhabi (emirates)

vettel cries. he’s done he impossible, and thanks the team for the opportunity to do so. he wins the race, webber finishes back in 8th (worst race of the year for him), alonso in 7th. schumacher has a frightening accident right at the beginning, ferrari ignores rosberg and petrov going to the box (i’d seen it all along!) during that safety-car phase, and their second mistake is to “mark” webber, who goes early into the pits after hitting one of his wheels. alonso goes to, worried to lose his spot in front of that red bull, and gets stuck behind petrov. vettel wins with luck and superb driving, after a year of some mistakes and lots of bad luck. and he cries. the youngest f1 champions ever, what a career so far!

november 28, london (england)

what a year it had been for rafael nadal. although there was no nadal x federer final in a grand slam, in 2010 (the first time this had happened for quite a few years), nadal had won the last three slams and is going for a “false” grand slam in australia, to make it four in a row, but not in the same year. nadal finally met federer in the atp world tour finals, the inofficial world championships of tennis. and federer taught the spaniard a lesson of who still hasn’t given up on the dream of coming back to become number one – and maybe even winning the grand slam itself. after this superb match, 2011 can come in the tennis world!

here some high class tennis, maybe the best there has ever been:

my personal top five moments:

5- ivica olic scores the winning goal for bayern munich against manchester united in the first leg, seconds from stoppage time.

4- arjen robben scores a spectacular volley to eliminate manchester united in old trafford, making olic’s goal count.

3- lukas podolski’s 2×0 against england, a fantastic goal as an example of the new german game (great work by thomas müller) and virtually eliminating the until then astonished englishmen, traditional rivals.

2- sebastian vettel passing the finish line in abu dhabi and, half a minute later, realizing he’s the world champion, breaking into tears.

1- arne friedrich’s goal against argentina, eliminating the gauchos with the 3×0; bastian schweinsteiger’s brilliant assist was the reason, and of course the tension breaking after another incredible performance of the best german team that ever played.

after group stages: best 50 european clubs!

the group stages are over, and a few interesting things become evident: out of the twenty best clubs in european football history, 19 qualified for europe ate the beginning of the season – and three of them are now out! juventus turin even had to let ac milan pass them in the all time ranking, loosing their spot as best italian team in the 56 year history of european football. atletico madrid won’t defend their title in the europa league, after failing to progress through the group phase, and celtic glasgow even failed to reach the group stage phase in that competition. in february, we’ll have a look at the clashes in champions league and europa league. here, just a quick top 50 ranking, based on the seasons 2006/07 until the current one; teams with a * are still in the run for a european title this year.

50. standard liege (bel)

49. az alkmaar (ned)

48. spartak moscow (rus)*

47. osc lille (fra)*

46. sporting braga (por)*

45. ajax amsterdam (ned)*

44. juventus turin (ita)

43. ca osasuna (spa)

42. fc paris saint-germain (fra)*

41. vfb stuttgart (ger)*

40. rsc anderlecht (bel)*

39. fulham fc (eng)

38. fc copenhagen (den)*

37. bayer leverkusen (ger)*

36. espanyol barcelona (spa)

35. celtic glasgow (sco)

34. olympiakos piräus (gre)

33. panathinaikos athens (gre)

32. villarreal fc (spa)*

31. fc schalke 04 (ger)*

30. fenerbahce istanbul (tur)

29. dynamo kiev (ukr)*

28. tottenham hotspur (eng)*

27. ac fiorentina (ita)

26. girondins bordeaux (fra)

25. glasgow rangers (sco)*

24. cska moscow (rus)*

23. olympique marseille (fra)*

22. sporting lisbon (por)*

21. benfica lisbon (por)*

now the top twenty, with a few comments:

20. zenit st. petersburg (rus)*

were present in 4 out of 5 seasons, won the uefa cup in 2008.

19. psv eindhoven (ned)*

played every season in europe, best result in 2007 (quarterfinals champions league).

18. atletico madrid (spa)

played the last four season in europe, and for the second time they don’t play after the winter; reigning europa league champions.

17. valencia fc (spa)*

last five seasons in europe, best result in 2007, a quarterfinal in the champions league.

16. hamburger sv (ger)

not in europe this year, but two years in a row in the uefa cup / europa league semifinal right before this season.

15. real madrid (spa)*

5 seasons, 5 times eliminated in the round of 16, last year against lyon (who they will play again in february).

14. fc porto (por)*

every season in europe, a quarter final appearence in the uefa champions league in 2009.

13. sevilla fc (spa)*

second best spanish team, but since their two uefa cup wins in 2006 and 2007, not too much productivity.

12. shakhtar donetsk (ukr)*

have completely taken national control from dynamo kiev, won the uefa cup in 2009.

11. as roma (ita)*

number three in italy, but best results in the last five seasons are four and five seasons ago (quaterfinals in the champions league).

10. olympique lyon (fra)*

in france, their domination ended, but in europe, they reached the semifinal of the champions league for the first time earlier this year.

9. werder bremen (ger)

a final and a semifinal in the uefa cup in the last five years, and always in europe; but the current season was by far the worst one.

8. ac milan (ita)*

since their champions league title in 2007 they’ve never reached the quarterfinals again – maybe this season?

7. arsenal fc (eng)*

a semifinal, two quarterfinals in the last four tries… not too bad, but arsenal wants the champions league title at some point.

6. internazionale milan (ita)*

reigning european champions, but in the three seasons before that, round of 16 eliminations.

5. bayern münchen (ger)*

finalist last year, quarterfinal before that, semifinal uefa cup before that – pretty good, but bayern wants more.

4. liverpool fc (eng)*

europe’s number four, england’s number three;  champions league final in 2007, a semifinal in 2008, a quarterfinal in 2009 and 2010… and this time in the europa league. doesn’t seem like progress.

3. chelsea fc (eng)*

when will they finally win the champions league? two semifinals and one final in the four seasons before the current one.

2. fc barcelona (spa)*

people think they are the best in europe, but in the last five seasons, they’re just number two. one title and two semifinals in the last three seasons give a positive tendency.

1. manchester united (eng)*

2007 semifinal, 2008 champions, 2009 finalist, 2010 quarterfinal; the record of the best team of the last seasons.

fifa club world cup – a pretty bad joke!

rafa benitez, when he was still welcome at internazionale; now, not even the fifa club world cup might save his job!

internazionale milan is in a little bit of a crisis. the reigning european champions have slipped in the serie a, and their latest display on international grounds was an embarresment to the team – a 0x3 loss in bremen, a match i actually attended. italian media reports that not even a fifa club world cup title will save his job. fifa club world cup? what was that again, many europeans might ask. if you go to south america, though, people know pretty well what that is. a quick look into the history of this competition will make this discrepancy clearer.

once upon a time, europe decided to create continental competitions to figure out which teams were the best in the continent. it all started with the first european cup in 1955, now known as uefa champions league; the idea was to play a knock-out tournament with all the current national champions parallel to the new season; away and home matches would decide the progression of a team, and the final was held in a neutral place to crown europe’s true champion. the uefa cup (at the founding time called inter-cities fairs cup) started a few years later, and the cup winner’s cup (now extinct) only in the 60s. but generally, a the team winning the european cup was viewed as the best team in the world.

pele for santos and eusebio for benfica - the 1962 final of the newly founded intercontinental cup.

south america couldn’t have that. their teams had a great tradition on their continent, and by 1958, south american nations had one three of six fifa world cups. while real madrid was winning the european cup every year, being considered the world’s best seemed arrogant to south american clubs. out of that feeling came the idea to create the “copa libertadores”, a competition who’s one goal was to define the best club in south america, and then to compare that club to the best one in europe. notice the historical difference: the european cup was designed to find the best club in europe, while the libertadores cup was clearly designed to defy the idea that european clubs were any better than south american ones. this is the reason why, until today, the intercontinental cup (our european-south american cup, as it was known for many years), taken hostage by fifa and now named fifa club world cup, is the maximum title a south american player can aspire for, if he plays for a south american club. for the europeans, that will never be the case, since their goal is to win the european cup, now called the uefa champions league.

the new intercontinental cup, now called world cup; the old one had europe and south american engraved...from an objective point of view, this already poses a question mark over the whole matches. Until 1980, away and home matches would decide the european-south american champion, often referred to as world champion. but many teams from europea wouldn’t bother to actually play those matches, since there was little to no prestige in it for them. after tokyo took over hosting and sponsoring, europeans always went to play the match – but more for the incredible amount of money than for the chance to defend european glory. so how can you take a match seriously, when the only way one side will give it some commitment is if you pay them enough to do so? with the other side so eager to win, based on sports merits? at times, a south american club would arrive in tokyo a full month earilier, while the european team would fly in after a league game on the weekend, just a couple of days before the match.

and nothing has really changed. while some teams hire players for that one match (and pay a lot of money for it), basically no european country will even broadcast it live. rafa benitez, stumbling head coach of uefa champions league winners internazionale, has been told that even a victory in fifa’s competition will not really improve his chances of not getting sacked – incredible for south american clubs!

when there was no real money involved, only the south americans really took the matches seriously. until 1970, giants like real madrid, milan, internazionale and benfica actually played the matches, but with little success. there is some merit to be given to teams like santos, peñarol and such, and at the end of the decade (and first 11 matchups), south americans had won six. looking at it objectively, though, this only seemed to confirm european superiority. but it led many south americans to believe that the football played on their continent was at least of the same level as in europe.

internacional, from porto alegre, brazil, will probably reach the final today; they've one the cup once, a few years ago against barcelona.

this impression was confirmed in the 70s, but it was nontheless a false one. european clubs really didn’t see the point in spending money to play a game they didn’t have the motivation for; and the trophy was little aprecciated even by the fans. it was always viewed as a nice bonus, but not really important. ajax won the european cup three times between 71-73, but only bothered to play one intercontinental final, where they beat independiente from argentina; from 74-76, bayern munich won the title in europe, but only played once, too: against cruzeiro from brazil, taking the prize. the lack of interest by the champions gave clubs like panathinaikos athens, atletico madrid and even borussia mönchengladbach a chance to play for the title. 1975 and 1978 the matches were cancelled alltogether, liverpool and bayern munich didn’t show any interest, and neither did anyone else. in 1979, nottingham forrest didn’t go, and malmö ff took over. even with these stories and juventus not wanting to play the match in buenos aires after losing 0x1 at home to independiente, europe won 3 of 7 duels. once again a pretty bad record for the south americans, if you look beyond the surface.

finally toyota came into the scene, helping uefa and conmebol to make the match more attractive to europeans. money was now involved, and one match instead of two also helped motivate europeans, who were now incentivated by uefa to go and do some good marketing for football, in asia. if you look at it from a sports point of view, you were taking the match away mostly from the south american fans, who actually cared. but if europeans were to take it more seriously now, so be it. after all, the motivation was still the same: to show europe where the best football was being played.

grêmio, another club from porto alegre, will be rooting for internazionale. becayse if the brazilian inter beats the european one, grêmio will have a "world title" less than internacional; by the way, they won theirs against hamburg, in 1984.

the new constellation meant that south americans were still playing for maximum honor, while europeans were motivated by some extra yens. and so, nottingham forrest, who had refused to play in 1979, took a plane to tokyo and lost to nacional. what followed delighted the south americans: 7 out of the following 9 finals were won by them, nacional uruguai even won twice. what had caused this big advantage? well, finally the passion for that particular match was paying off. preperation for tokyo were often weeks long in japan for these south american clubs, while europeans would normally arrive a day before the match. audiences would watch the match in the southern hemisphere, while no live coverages were shown in europe. basically, the europeans were picking up their checks, and were motivated purely by the fact that south americans were so extremely motivated. after all, no one wants to lose a match.

since 1995, the second time i ever watched this match (the first time was also in brazil, with brazilian participation in the final), the table has turned somewhat. in terms of results. interest is still extremely low on the old continent, not a single tv station had live pictures from last year’s final (who played whom again??); but the money and marketing involved are increasing, and that’s due to the professional money makers from fifa, who had not been involved with this competition at all. until today, fifa consideres the first club world champion to be the winner of their first ever such tournament, won by corinthians – a team that has never even won the libertadores cup! and the greater joke was that manchester united, the 1999 uefa champions league winner (dramatic final against bayern), didn’t want to play the tournament. they’d played the intercontinental final (which still existed) and won it (as most europeans were, after 1994), and now they would have to either play fifa’s new tournament or the fa cup. it is obvious that both club and players preferred to play first round fa cup action than this stupid tournament in brazil’s hot summer.

fifa’s tournament was an embarresment for everyone envolved, the title match being between two brazilian clubs (none of them had even recently won the libertadores cup). real madrid and manchester united showed a clear lack of interest, and fifa would not try again until 2005. the intercontinental cup was still alive and running every single year, until fc porto beat once caldas in the last japonese final. in those last 10 years of japan, europe won the title seven times. it’s not a coincidence that this started after the bosman ruling and the invasion of south american players in european top leagues – they were historically motivated to win the that title, even if they were now making the opposite point.

fifa wants money, so fifa started organizing the "fifa club world cup". a sad affair.

fifa had now basically bought the right to be exclusively responsible for crowining the world club champion. all confederations sent their title holders, but up to now, europe and south america have always played the final. this should probably also happen next sunday, when internacional (bra) and internazionale are expected to play the final. and the only people really caring will be either the population of the south brazilian city porto alegre, and the inter fans for their own; and the internazionale fans mostly in south america. once again we’ll see images which show seemingly sad players from the italian club after losing, and brazilian fans saying “see, they do care about he match”. this sentence says it all.

the fifa club world cup (which used to be called “fifa club world championship” but had it named change to sound more like the much more important “fifa world cup”) is a money-making scheme where only one club really desires to hold that title in their hands. the big joke of the tournament is that the fans from grêmio porto alegre, internacional’s city rivals, will be rooting more for internazionale milano than the interisti themselves. that says it all! and the joke is also on fifa, who are selling the tv rights to the dubai spectacle at such high prices that europeans are still not interested in buying them.

and the last joke might be on the spaniard rafa benitez; the might be the fifa world champion and lose his job just a few weeks later. which makes it pretty clear: even if south american club football were better than the european game (a point no true specialist would dare to make), the intercontinental cup or the fifa club world cup wouldn’t answer the question. instead, ask yourself how many of the players participating in the world cup quarterfinal this year played in european clubs. and how much of the tactics in that world cup was inspired by south american leagues.

european club football will always be better south american club football, just as the uefa champions league has a much higher quality than the copa libertadores. and more and more south americans are admitting this. i do admit it was less clear in the 60s and 70s, but even then that was true.