There are many reasons to have a moan at the state of football these days: extortionate ticket prices are preventing the working class from attending games, non-competitive title races are being won time and time again by the rich, oil money clubs, Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium will include a cheese room (are they Emmental? Sorry). These are all very valid reasons why people may be turned off the beautiful game.
Thank god, then, that we still have the Champions League. Sure, it is still jam-packed full of spoilt, over-indulged footballers who earn billions off clubs run by corrupt oligarchs. But no one can deny that it's bloody good fun.
Tuesday night's games perfectly demonstrated the joys of the competition. Two teams who are strolling to success in their domestic leagues, Manchester City and Barcelona, were humbled, outplayed and dismantled by two sides who, although not top dogs in their countries right now, simply have a special pedigree when it comes to European competition: Liverpool and Roma.
Gotta love the Champions League: Barcelona might go undefeated in La Liga, City might break the EPL points record, and they'll both be viewed as disappointments— Ryan O'Hanlon (@rwohan) April 10, 2018
The Roma vs Barcelona game in particular was gripping viewing. While most people thought the tie was over following a comfortable 4-1 first leg Barcelona win at the Nou Camp, Roma had other ideas.
In front of a raucous crowd they put the sword to a complacent-looking Barca, scoring early to get the locals excited, then again with half an hour to play turning levels up to fever pitch, and finally the third to send the stadium wild.
The last ten minutes or so were peak Champions League: Barcelona pushing forward desperately in search of an equaliser, Roma defending like warriors, and an absurdly high intensity that is very rare to find in your average league game. The reaction from one commentator said it all.
Just from this season's knockout stages you could already write a book filled with stories that could become the stuff of legend: the un-fancied Sevilla knocking out Manchester United in their own back-yard, Cristiano Ronaldo being applauded by a whole stadium having scored one of the most beautiful bicycle kicks of all time, Liverpool thumping three goals past a then almost invincible-looking Man City within half an hour.
The Champions League really is the main stage where legends are made and villains are cast.
Some argue that the World Cup is the true nadir of footballing greatness, and it is true that many of the best players through time such as Pele and Maradona are remembered more for performances for their country than for club. Nevertheless, the quality and excitement of matches tends to be greater in the Champions League.
UNBELIEVABLE! Roma president Pallotta throwing himself in the fountain surrounded by fans! pic.twitter.com/tqSnehrMbp— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) April 10, 2018
The two-legged affair in knockout stages aids in this aspect. The lure of the away goal or the desperation of needing to overcome a heavy first leg loss often leads to stretched, wide open games, and the whole complexion of a tie can often swing from one way to another in a matter of minutes, adding to the intrigue.
You also often get the sense that the players themselves prefer competing in the Champions League. After all, they are going to battle with teammates who they see almost every day, under a manager who they get to know and become familiar with, whereas, as is often the case with England, international sides often play as though they have all just been introduced to each other.
There is no doubt to my mind, then, that the Champions League is, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, the number one contest, both for fans and players.
.@btsportfootball Champions League at its best Impossible, unthinkable.... Yeah right Roma fans some noise and not leaving the stadium This is why football is the greatest game in the world !!! Wow— Chris Sutton (@chris_sutton73) April 10, 2018
The passion, unpredictability and sheer quantity of magic moments cannot be matched in any other football competition, perhaps even in any other sports competition in general, in the world. And I guess even if we all have to watch from a corporate cheese room in the future, so Brie it.
I'll get my coat.