With Villarreal’s feat in Munich and the exhilarating showdown between Real and Chelsea, this Champions League evening reminded us that football does not need a major revolution to continue to exist, no offense to Gianni Infantino and defenders of the European Superleague.
It was an evening to remember that football, the one that brings crowds together and crosses the ages, is not about to die or disappear. He’s not nearly boring either, even if the enthusiast’s natural nostalgia will often make him think that everything was better before, and he won’t be completely wrong. But now, the terrain always ends up taking over everything else and everything we hate. This Tuesday evening, the two quarter-finals of the Champions League return were not a priori the most exciting, yet they have become monuments. Special, rare matches to go down in the history books. For different reasons. Bayern, sacred monster and rekordmeister waited like a steamroller to erase his misstep on the first leg, fell at home to Villarreal, 7and of Liga. Further south, at the Santiago-Bernabéu stadium, Chelsea believed they had achieved the impossible before being overtaken by unreality and Real Madrid during an irrational scenario. Two sensations, one conclusion: football does not need major revolutions.
Football is fine, thank you for him
Far from the glitter of the Champions League, whose draw ceremonies he used to host not so long ago, Gianni Infantino, FIFA President, was in Guingamp last weekend to attend the Toulouse’s victory and put an end to a new controversy caused by yet another far-fetched idea. “There will be no rule change” he assured the microphone of beIN Sports at the edge of the Roudourou lawn to close the debate on a possible extension of the duration of matches to 100 minutes by the 2022 World Cup. The Italian-Swiss leader was not in the stands in Madrid on Tuesday evening, where the second period of extra time between Real and Chelsea gave credit to his desire to start “a real reflection on effective time” .
Infantino is not always wrong, but he is rarely right, he like his friends from FIFA, UEFA and all the organizations and bodies where bureaucrats like to think about football today and above all to tomorrow’s. The lunar proposals imagined by these “thinking” heads can no longer even be listed as they are numerous (30-minute halves, goals outside the area that count double, new competitions, the World Cup every two years, unlimited changes, etc.). Since the creation of the game, it has undergone many changes, and not all of them are good to throw away – the abolition of the away goal rule could, for example, find its audience – but the major reforms imagined at the FIFA & Cie risk, in the long term, to distort a sport which has not lost its letters of nobility.
The singing spring
Football also does not need a European Superleague, where the best, and therefore the richest, would compete every week or an incomprehensible new C1 format with an overloaded calendar. The sometimes boring routine of the group stage is a necessary appetizer before the great spring evenings. What is rare is precious, no one wants to attend a fifth or sixth Chelsea-Real Madrid in less than a year in April. This Tuesday evening also reminded us that the strongest had the right to lose against the smallest, which remains the very essence of this sport. In the dream world of Florentino Pérez and Andrea Agnelli, Villarreal would never have had the opportunity to send Bayern Munich back to their dear studies. This Champions League has flaws, but it’s not quite closed to surprise guests yet. Ajax, Atalanta, RB Leipzig and Villarreal played to win their place and to tease the big names. In recent years, the competition seems even more open and rid of the outrageous domination of Barça and Real. Since 2019, the defending champion has fallen each time before the last four, like Chelsea this evening. Tomorrow is another day, another opportunity to dream and remember that football does not belong to Gianni Infantino and his friends.
By Clement Gavard