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Lungile Binza
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A bridge too far for other cities?

22 May 2014, 11:47

Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid’s achievement of becoming the first European Champions League finalists from the same city, in Lisbon, on Saturday the 24th May 2014, has put pressure on other European capitals or cities to try and replicate. Ever since the Champions League was expanded, in the mid 90’s, to allow more than one team from the same country to participate, countries  and leagues have been queuing up to have their finest teams compete in the final, but not cities. Spain started this trend in 2000 before Italy in 2003 then England followed suit in 2007 and Germany were the last country to produce the two finalists in 2013. Madrid becomes the first city, to produce two Champions finalists and it’s an extra-ordinary feet that may take very long to achieve or even repeat from any other City in Europe.

Other regions or cities in Spain don’t enjoy as much fierce rivalry as these two teams from Madrid. In Catalonia, there’s only one club, which is more than a club. FC Barcelona is the religion and Camp Now is place of worship for many. There is no rivalry even though Espanyol is consistently in top flight of the Spanish League, La Liga. For Espanyol to qualify for the Champions League would be a massive achievement for a club living under the shadow of its more illustrious neighbour.

In Basque, Athletic Bilboa and Real Sociedad might make an appearance or two in the Champions League, but for both of them qualifying for the knockout stages, let alone reaching the final at the sometime, would be unthinkable and miraculous. Other cities like Sevilla and Valencia, only has one club to speak of even though they do have some local derbies in Spanish league.

The question therefore would be: Can another European City replicate this feet? The answer is not a simple one but worth exploring:

In the 1960 or even 70’s, and definitely before the Bosman ruling, the city of Glasglow in Scotland could have been one of the contenders for this unique position where Celtics and Rangers enjoy fierce rivalry. Remember, in 1967 when Celtics won the European Cup, to become the first British side to win this tournament, used not only Scottish players, but players from about 30 KM radius from their stadium and headquarters in Glasgow. Now, the possibility of this happening is remote as these two just become happy for qualifying for the tournament, let alone reaching the knockout phases. Their league is not competitive enough or they don’t have big enough budgets to compete with the big boys in the continent. It’s even worse for Rangers as they battle the get to the Scottish Premier League after being relegated to the lower leagues for financial reasons.

In Munich, there’s also only one club, Bayern. 1860 Munich, which alternates between Bundesliga and the lower divisions, wouldn’t dream of playing in Champion League. Preserving their Bundesliga status is always their main priority. If ever Germany would produce a Champions League final derby, it could be the region, Ruhr Valley, not a City. Schalke, from Gerlsenkirchen, and Borussia Dortmund, from Dortmund come from this region and are constant competitors in the Champion League, but this would be a long short if both of them can reach the final at the same time.

In France, which is still battling to produce its own two finalists as a country, there isn’t much of City rivalry that gets taken to the European stage. The last time this country produced even a finalist was 2004 when Monaco lost to FC Porto in Gerlsenkirchen, Germany. In Paris its only PSG, Marseille is only Marseille, Lyon is Lyon, and the list goes on. This country will take a very long time before getting to heights of Spain, let alone Madrid, as most of their star players get bought by big spending leagues in the continent.

In Portugal, the cities of Porto and Lisbon do enjoy some rivalry especially in Lisbon where Sporting Lisbon and Benfica are main city rivalries. This country is still trying to get its own finalists, so for two city rivals to get there might be a long short.

In Italy, the city of Turin has Juventus, which is consistently among the favourites in the Champions League, but there isn’t much of a city rival. Torino, which fluctuates between Serie A and Serie B or even Serie C, don’t pose too much of a city competition and a European place for them, whether Europa or Champions League, is always seen as a great achievement.

The city that enjoys fierce rivalry in Italy is Rome, with AS Roma and SS Lazio. The eternal city currently enjoys one of the fiercest of football rivalries in the world and it has surpassed any other city in the country. Their two teams are regulars in Champions League but it would be very hard if both of them reach the final in the same year. In footballing terms, it’s still unthinkable but possible.

The city that could achieve this in Italy is Milan. The Milan derby has been overtaken by the Rome derby as the biggest in the country, but both AC Milan and Inter Milan are regulars in tournament and are always among the favourites. Their European experience and pedigree is far superior to that of their Rome counterparts. Inter recently won the tournament in 2010, in Madrid, and AC Milan last won in 2007, in Athens. If there’s a city that could immediately follow the Madrid example, look no further than Milan.

But if there’s a country that has an abundance of city rivalries that also constantly compete in the Champions League, it is England. The cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and London have some of the biggest spending teams in European football that anything could be possible and reasonable quickly.

In Manchester, the riches of Manchester City have propelled them to the top of the league stakes both domestically and in Europe. With United’s experience and winning mentality, seeing these two rivals in the final won’t surprise too many, even though it might annoy Michel Platini.

The Merseyside derby, in Liverpool, is also one of the biggest derbies in the world. On derby day, the city gets divided into Blue, of Everton, and Red, of Liverpool, and there’s no in-between. Liverpool are constant qualifiers of the Champions League, but Everton, with their limited budget, make an entry or two, at least once a decade. The possibility of the two reaching the final would extraordinary.

The City of London has consistently qualified a team in Champion league for the last two decades. At some stage they had three clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham in the tournament at the same time in group stages. For Chelsea and Arsenal, they qualify for the knockout stages most the time and have reached 3 finals between them in the last 8 years. Anything less than knockout stages is deemed as huge under-achievement. If Arsenal can spend a bit in the next 3 years, this is one city that can follow Madrid example pretty quickly. Don’t bank on this (Arsenal’s spending) happening any time soon though.

But for now, let us enjoy what the city of Madrid has brought us. It’s Spain, as a country, that is again taking the lead. They were the first country to produce two finalists, Valencia and Real Madrid, in 2000, in Paris, and now they are the first to produce two finalists from the same city. They are pioneers and history makers and everyone need to salute their recipe to success. They have set the bar very high indeed for other countries and cities. My heart has always been white, but I wouldn't be surprised if Atletico sneaks it!

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