Why Champions League triumph is now the true measure of success
As expected, it’s been an eventful season in Europe. Prior to the campaign getting underway, the continent’s elite clubs made notable, expensive signings. Transfer records were obliterated. It showed real intent. Performing well domestically was no doubt important. Winning the Champions League, however, took precedence.
It's no secret: among others, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have targeted winning the Champions League. Their main goal is to conquer Europe in the near future. Clubs such as Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have also strived to obtain the ultimate prize. All three have come close in recent years.
Supporters' reaction when clubs fail to compete for the Champions League emphasizes its importance. Arsenal is one such example. Most Gunners fans want Arsene Wenger out. The Frenchman is still appreciated for growing the club, but a lack of trophies has caused frustration around the Emirates. Not winning the Premier League since 2003/04 is partly to blame. Continued failure in Europe's elite club competition, however, is the root of the problem. If Wenger had delivered the last two UCL trophies like Zinedine Zidane managed at Real Madrid, Arsenal supporters would have forgiven all domestic disappointment.
PSG, Bayern Munich, and Juventus have dominated their domestic leagues in recent seasons. That is no longer satisfactory, though. They want more. They want success on the continent.
Barcelona's recent criticism, then, isn't surprising. Despite producing a record-breaking season in La Liga, Blaugrana suffered Champions League humiliation away at Roma.
Barca's quarter-final elimination probably ends Lionel Messi's hopes of collecting the 2018 Ballon d'Or, unless he can lead Argentina to World Cup glory. Similar applies to Neymar, whose PSG side crumbled against Real Madrid in the last 16. Playing a significant role in the Parisiens' Ligue 1 domination won't prove enough to gain recognition as the world's greatest player. Robert Lewandowski, meanwhile, can still help Bayern win Kyiv's Champions League final. Coupled with assisting Poland to World Cup success, the striker will become a candidate to take FIFA's most prestigious individual award in December.
For Messi, Neymar and Lewandowski, the Champions League is a key factor in receiving individual honours. The competition is now valued above all for clubs and players.
Concern regarding Zinedine Zidane’s future at Real Madrid has subsided since progressing to the Champions League semi-finals. The Frenchman would have perhaps already lost his job had Los Blancos been eliminated from the competition before now.
Jose Mourinho's critics became more convinced he was the problem at Manchester United after defeat to Sevilla ended European hopes.
Pep Guardiola’s reign at Bayern Munich has a blot. The Spaniard took over a side which was the reigning Champions League winners. During his three year spell, he failed to return the trophy. So despite securing three Bundesliga titles, Guardiola left the Bavarians with few special memories. He only succeeded in achieving the bare minimum expected of Bayern.
Prior to Guardiola arriving at Man City, each of the club's previous two managers had delivered the Premier League title. Although Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini added other domestic cups, neither found the winning formula in the Champions League. Dominating English soil isn't new to the Citizens. What they really long for is to bring home Europe's biggest club prize.
Despite the joy in Manchester's blue half, Paris, Turin, Barcelona, and Munich for securing domestic titles, it will not be complete until the Champions League trophy is added. That has become the true measure of success.