The UEFA Champions League is an annual club football competition, organized by the Union of European Football (UEFA) and contested by elite clubs from all over Europe. The competition is considered the prestigious most prestigious club context, across the world and holds its status right next to the World Cup.
Considered as the breeding grounds for legends and champions, the UEFA Champions League has hosted some of the most brilliant moments in world football with a galaxy of stars on display. Subsequently, viewership statistics for the competition are far more than any annual sporting event in the world, with the 2012/13 Final exceeding 360 million viewers globally.
The competition was introduced in 1992, when it replaced the “European Champion Clubs’ Cup” which had been running since 1955. The new format allowed multiple entrants from specific countries and added a group stage to the competition which has made it last longer and more exciting for fans. Prior to 1992, the simple knock stage was open only to domestic league winners of each country, leaving out the top runner-ups unlike the current format. However, even today not all runner-ups are included and instead the primary seeding is done based on rankings of domestic leagues, with top nations getting to field 4 teams.
Officially, the UEFA Champions League begins in July, when qualifiers are played to decide clubs for the closing spots. The top three leagues in Europe get three confirmed spots in the Champions League, while for the fourth spot, clubs standing fourth in these domestic league fight with the winners of Leagues with a lower co-efficient in the qualifying round.
The top 10 teams from this round join the 22 other already qualified teams to battle it out for ultimate glory. The clubs are seeded for the qualifying stage and group stage by UEFA, on basis of the club coefficient rankings, an official statistic generated in accordance with the club’s recent performances and certain principles established by Club Competition committee. For seeding, clubs are ranked upon a certain combination, of which 20% is the value of respective club’s coefficient for the past five seasons and the club’s performance in recent UEFA tournaments. The 32 teams are drawn into eight different groups and play each other in a double robin round system. The ties in this round are decided on the basis of a draw, with the team drawing first playing the first leg at home.
The two clubs with the most points in each group proceed to the knockout round which is commonly referred to as the Round of 16, which further allows the winners to play each other in the quarter finals. Passing through the quarters, the 4 top teams form the semi-finals and fight it out for a place in the grand final, which takes place in May and at a neutral venue.
By winning the UEFA Champions League, the club becomes eligible to compete in the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. Each competition has a favorite entrant and for the UEFA Champions League, it’s the Legendary Whites; Real Madrid, who have won the cup for a record 10 times, far ahead of any other club in Europe. Los Blancos made history back in 1955 when it won the first five initial tournaments, a stride which was sensational and sent waves of excitement across every footballing community. The high standards set by the Madrid-based club are what defines the competition today and what gives it, its intensity. As a country, Spain has won the competition most times, a record 15, followed by England and Italy both of which have won it 12 times. A total of 22 clubs have won the competition and only 12 of those have managed to triumph more than once. No club has managed to win the competition consecutive times i.e. defend their title, ever since the format changed back in 1992. And considering the tournament is an annual one this is a remarkable stat to say the least!
The current Champions are Barcelona from Spain who won the title for the fifth time completing their treble while the current top scorer for the Champions League is Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, having scored 88 goals for Real Madrid and Manchester United combined. The record for most goals scored in a single season also falls with Cristiano Ronaldo, who bagged 17 goals in the 2013/14 season. On the other hand, the record for most appearances in the tournament is held by Iker Casillas, who has made 156 appearances to date.
Every year, the winner of the Champion’s league is presented with a beautiful trophy, the design of which was conceived back in 1967. Clubs which are able to win the trophy for consecutive three years or five-times in total are awarded a permanent replica of the trophy. Out of the 22 winners, six clubs have earned this honor, the list includes: Real Madrid, Liverpool, Ac Milan, Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. The trophy with an iconic design stands 29-inches tall and is made of pure silver weighing around 24 pounds. Designed by a jeweler from Switzerland Jörg Stadelmann, the original trophy was handed over to Real Madrid after their sixth triumph. Along with the trophy, the Champions League winning club is awarded with 40 gold medals and the runners-up with 40 silver medals to endorse their efforts and success.
Winning the Champions League also directly boosts the club’s revenue, with the final reward being €15 million for the winners. Furthermore, the runner ups are awarded with €10.5 million, the semi finalists with €7 million, quarter finalists with €6 million, and each group stage victory accumulates up to €1.5 million in rewards. Of course for bigger clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and many more these amounts are not as exuberant as they sound and just by playing the tournament they earn in hundreds of millions of pounds by ticketing, viewership rights and other sales and promotional activities.
In 1992, UEFA partnered up with Television Event and Media Marketing (TEAM) to make Champions League a recognized brand, resulting in an anthem, banners, flags, logo and dressing materials. Every Champions League fixture, no matter where in Europ,e have stadiums dressed in a uniform theme the cornerstone of which is the star ball logo created by Design Bridge, a London based firm. The logo today has achieved recognition worldwide, with 94% of television viewership able to recognize the logo. Along similar lines, is the Champions League anthem, which is again considered prestigious by all football fans, and was performed by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. The chorus is based on three official languages, English, German, and French, and the anthem is played before and after each fixture by television broadcasts all across the globe.
The UEFA Champions League is the most prestigious football event across the globe and winning it is a dream for many and the highlight of any player’s career. Although, the opinion is divided between what’s more difficult to win, the Champions League or the International World Cup, the competition is extremely tough to win and the most competitive in world football.