The Always and Forever Opponents

Time is interesting. Whenever I watch the news and some story comes about “so-and-so did such-and-such” I’m always shocked by how long ago that thing took place. If something took place within the last 3 months, however, I’m shocked by how recent something was. The whole Greek austerity thing was how long ago? Really? Wow, that’s kind of a long time ago. The United States presidential election was only 33 days ago? Holy cow I would have sworn it was in 2014.

And the last time Barça played PSG? Yesterday. 1956. I don’t know. Is this a trick question? Don’t we always play PSG? Aren’t we playing PSG this weekend and last weekend and every weekend forever? And if we don’t, why not?

Wait, those jerseys. Was that last year? Holy crap, that was two years ago. Man, how time flies. And wait, didn’t we go through this whole question of how often we play teams just last year with Arsenal? And why didn’t this end up being a goal!? It deserved to be a goal, but oh okay this was a goal. And this. And also this.  Woooooo.

But seriously, we supposedly played Arsenal every year but it turned out that we hadn’t for 5 years. PSG was obviously always going to be our opponent, but it’s only because we played them 4 times 2 years ago that it seems like we always get them. Outside of the group stage, we’ve played them twice since 1997. Those times came since 2013, of course, but in that time we’ve played Manchester City, Bayern Munich, and Atleti twice as well, with Man City getting a 3rd meeting through the group stage this season. We played Celtic 3 times as well since 2013, though all of those were in the group stage (including this year).

It may seem repetitive, but it’s not really possible to truly avoid a lot of teams. The only team in Europe that never seems to play a team twice is Real Madrid. But they actually even they have played Borussia Dortmund like 18 times since last month and obviously they met Atleti twice in the final since 2013. What I mean, though, is that as the money in football concentrate in the hands of fewer and fewer teams, those same opponents will pop up time and again. The turnover from year-to-year is okay in the Champions League, with 48 unique teams represented in the knockout stage over the last 10 years, but only 16 teams were there once (Gent! Malaga!), meaning that the likelihood of running into the same culprits was pretty high.

Beyond that, look at the number of teams represented in the final over those nine years (because there hasn’t been a final this year): 9 unique finalists for 18 slots. Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, and Inter Milan are the only teams to have just one final appearance in that time and there were 2 exact replica matches (Barcelona-Manchester United and Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid).

If we are to lament the rise of matches pitting the same teams against each other year-in and year-out, we must first recognize that we’re pretty bad at actually remembering things–wait, didn’t we just play Lyon? Juninho retired!?–and that if we want to avoid repeat matches, we need to invest in greater access for more teams. That means changes to transfer markets, salaries, television rights distribution, and tournament prize money which, if we’re being honest with ourselves, hurts Barcelona in at least the short term and possibly the long term. Missing out on the Champions League because of major change to our footballing world sounds terrible, but it has become a question of what we want out of football: the same mega rich brands with the world’s greatest stars plucked from sides lucky enough to have raised them and then reaped the rewards (or, more often than not, stiffed of both their financial windfall and their player) competing against an ever smaller number of successful corporate structures or a kind of mishmash where our favorite team, long top dog in the European market, might very well lose out from time-to-time?

Do you even remember the last time Barcelona missed the Champion League? It was in 2003, when a fresh-faced young lawyer named Joan Laporta had just taken over the club. My how time flies when you’re having fun. Do you know who we faced in the group stage the very next year, once we had re-qualified? Celtic, of course. We always play them.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

5 Comments

  1. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    December 15, 2016

    .
    Clearly this lucky draw structure needs to change towards a more scientific approach to determine opponents, purely to ensure that the winner of the competition IS actually the best team.

    This will benefit football and UEFA as well where top teams getting the unlucky path crash out early and we have lack lustre finals as was clearly the case last year where real madrid had no business being in the final. Does anyone think they would have been there, given the unconvincing manner in which they were playing and where they were from an evolution under zidane perspective, had they faced Atleti in a 2 legged tie, or even Barca or Bayern? Absolutely not, I reckon.

    Football competitions should reward performance and consistency.
    Not luck.
    And certainly not how famous your name is.

    Was Penaldo really the best player in the world in 2016? Or did he just happen to be the most famous name in a ridiculously lucky real madrid and portugal team?

    • georgjorge
      December 15, 2016

      I imagine the problem with a “scientific approach” is that football and the Champions League are now entertainment for the masses, and having a more complicated advancement structure turns people off. I actually don’t think it’s very unbalanced right now, draws like RM got last year are not common.

      The Ballon D’Or is a different thing, because it’s purely a marketing and entertainment device right now. Ronaldo wasn’t even the best player on his national team, and certainly not the best player at RM (Modric? Ramos?). If they didn’t want to give the award to Messi because he doesn’t make many of those spectacular runs anymore, fine (though shortsighted), but there were better options. It’s just an attempt at gaining attention through an imagined Messi-Ronaldo rivalry.

    • *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
      December 15, 2016

      Agreed 100% about the Bd”O. It is sadly a popularity contest and driven by marketing. Unfortunately for Messi, he reached such stratospheric levels so early and repeated them so frequently, that anything (like the countless solo runs you speak of and eleventy billion goals) LESS than that is somehow seen as a decline or dip in quality. His early rise is his problem. Much like that of Pep. Recall that moment when he sobbed after winning the first CWC and sixth trophy? A lot of us, me included, may have thought of that as a little over dramatic, inexplainable. But now, we can see. When you reach such levels so fast, peak so early, there is only one inevitable thing. One way down. Anyway I don’t care much about these individual prizes. In fact any committee that hasn’t recognized Xavi or Iniesta, especially during that golden spanish decade has absolutely ZERO CREDIBILITY to me.

      But the CL, however is something that can be improved upon. And I’m sure the competition constantly undergoes change to make it better. just like goal line technology, foam sprays for referees, and selection criteria.

      This lucky draw bullshit needs to go for sure.
      What the hell is the point of being a top seeded team anyway?

  2. December 15, 2016

    Teams become the seeded team by winning their group. That means more income from won matches, higher coefficient, and also second leg at home.
    You may think that’s just BS, but I’d suggest asking Arsenal whether they’d rather have Barcelona instead of Bayern. Ask Borussia Dortmund whether there was a point in being the seeded team, ask Atletico,and Juventus.

    Just the second leg at home is an advantage, if you play like Barça.

    • *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
      December 15, 2016

      If you read my comment, you’ll see that I called BS on the draw not benefits of seeding. ☝

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