The Champions League is up and running already
How can they spend all that money if they never stop playing?
It's hard to believe, but on July 16th, we're already in the Second Qualifying Stage of the UEFA Champions League.
I miss the European Cup, when teams that entered were legitimately the winners of their country's league. There are now up to four entrants from the bigger leagues (England, Spain, Germany etc.) due to their revenue generating potential, which means some teams with great histories are being forced to play in the middle of summer just to get their shot at Europe's top club competition.
I'm so confused by the qualifying system - the UEFA website (uefa.com) attempts to explain it, but this sentence had me wondering if I had too much to drink last night (which can't be ruled out)...
'The ten winners in the play-off round ties – five from the best-placed path and five from the champions path – join 22 automatic entrants in the 32-team group stage.'
I get the 22 automatic entries bit, but am just too lazy to work the rest out. Teams from Andorra, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Croatia played on July 2 in the first qualifying stage - they'll really have earned that bottom place finish in the group stages, if they ever make it.
Celtic, who made it to the round of 16 last season (before Juventus hammered them 5-0), are involved in one of the 16 ties taking place over the next two days, with the second-legs next week. The draw for the third qualifying stage, where teams like Lyon and Zenit St. Petersburg enter, is on Friday July 19. Some of those teams have barely had time to consider the transfer market and shape their teams yet - but you can guarantee that teams who fail to make the group stages will lose their best players pretty quickly afterwards.
The final is at Benfica's stadium on May 24, 2014, with qualifying for the next year's competition probably starting the day after.
There has to be a better way (maybe not a way that makes as much money, but a better way).
Football never sleeps....but trying to understand the Champions League qualifying process helps me to.