Champions League: When just a league title isn't enough - the story of Europe's elite clubs
- Ancelotti, Emery, Blanc and Allegri have paid the price for failing to deliver the UCL. Is it then the Holy Grail for Europe's elite?
On the 17th of May, 2019, Juventus announced that they had parted ways with Massimiliano Allegri despite the Italian guiding the Old Lady to another Serie A crown. The most surprising aspect though was that he was being relieved of his duties a year earlier than prescribed even as he clinched a 5th consecutive Scudetto.
The Italian’s impressive laurels include winning the Coppa Italia on four occasions while he also lifted the Italian Super Cup twice. Yet, come the end of the 2018-19 season, one of football’s serial winners will find himself without a job.
Though his continental form in the UEFA Champions League left a bit to be desired at times, was the said deficiency enough for Juventus to do away with a manager who won 11 accolades in just five seasons?
While common sense might reply to the above question in the negative, a deeper look into how these European superpower clubs function throw light on a different answer altogether.
The last time Juventus tasted Champions League success was way back in 1996 when they got the better of Ajax. ince then, the Old Lady has trundled to the final 5 times only to fall at the final hurdle. To rub salt into their wounds, they’ve seen their Italian peers, AC Milan and Inter Milan lift the trophy twice and once respectively during that period.
Moreover, Juventus’ dominance in Italy coupled with their rivals’ alarming decline has made the Serie A more of a formality nowadays with the club again enjoying an astounding 11-point gap heading into the final weekend of the current season.
Thus, it is understandable why the Turin outfit places a single UCL title on a much higher pedestal than their voluminous domestic trophy cabinet. Inevitably, a failure to achieve the aforementioned objective led to the sacking of Allegri.
However, the said trend isn’t only specific to Juventus. Other European clubs in the top five leagues, namely Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid have previously shown the inclination to make wholesale changes if the UCL remains elusive.
In the early 2010s, PSG was taken over by Qatari owners and they endowed the club’s financial system with an enormous amount of money. Unsurprisingly, the trophy they were after also spelt out the same as the Champions League.
The 2013 off-season saw the French club appoint Laurent Blanc in their quest to quench their European thirst. Yet, three domestically trophy-laden and continentally barren seasons saw the Frenchman given the boot.
Unai Emery was the next to fall prey despite winning every other trophy on offer. Though the Spaniard did himself no favours after that capitulation at the Camp Nou, he certainly had done enough to warrant another bite at the UCL cherry.
Bayern Munich, meanwhile, fired Carlo Ancelotti after the Italian inexplicably crashed to a 3-0 defeat to PSG in the 2017-18 Champions League group stage. Though he had won the Bundesliga the preceding season, his indecisiveness in Europe’s premier club competition acted as the final straw for the Bavarian hierarchy.
As for Barcelona, the club and its fans are still undecided on whether Ernesto Valverde is the right man for the job. The Spaniard is on course to win a second consecutive domestic double yet their annihilation at the hands of Liverpool a fortnight ago and Roma a year previously has meant that the jury is still out on him.
To put things into perspective, the Blaugrana might get rid of their manager despite him having won the La Liga twice and the Copa Del Rey once (for now).
Real Madrid, Barcelona’s eternal rivals, won three Champions Leagues on the spin between 2016 and 2018. However, the Los Blancos only laid their hands on the La Liga once during that period. Yet, the Madrid faithful were willing to look the other way as long as the coveted UCL winner’s medals piled up.
Thus, the above fact highlights that the Champions League is indeed considered the holy grail by these huge European clubs.
However, the discussed pattern is only specific to the big clubs in Spain, Germany, Italy and France with English sides proving to be the anomaly.
The last time a club from England won the Champions League was in 2012 when Chelsea succeeded against all the odds. Since that night in Munich though, only Liverpool has made the final, losing out to Real Madrid last season.
While the above statistic is bound to change this term, it just emphasises how the Champions League is looked upon as a bonus by English clubs rather than the ‘be-all-end-all’ it is for their European counterparts.
The 2018-19 season saw Manchester City notch up an unprecedented domestic treble. But, they went out in the quarter-finals of the UCL. Yet, Pep Guardiola knows his job isn’t under threat as long as he can keep producing the sheer number of titles they crave.
Tottenham, meanwhile, has also made a European final after time immemorial. However, Mauricio Pochettino would certainly not be judged by the outcome of the final in Madrid and he most definitely wouldn’t lose his job if he fails to muster a decent enough European challenge next term.
And that, above all, provides the best explanation for the aberration.
Over the years, England has gained a notorious reputation for being a place where managers have a shelf life just exceeding that of a normal battery. Yet, the hiring and firing happens primarily due to domestic frailties, unlike the clubs in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
At the moment, Juventus are on the lookout for a manager and a certain Special One aka Jose Mourinho, could be on his way to Italy. Yet, for all the times he might remind the media of the numerous league titles he has won, even he would ultimately be judged by his ability to bring the UCL to Turin.
Similarly, a potential replacement for Valverde, Nico Kovac or Thomas Tuchel might be brought on board with the top European competition in mind.
Thus, it is only fitting that at this juncture, the English clubs are the only ones not worried about going out of Europe while for the others it seems unimaginable.
Published 21 May 2019, 13:49 IST