It wasn’t so long ago – three weeks to be precise – that, after Bayern Munich’s impressive Champions League victory over Arsenal at the Emirates, that the great and the good of the German club were queuing up to hail the current side who, we were told, would not only sweep all before them this season, but would eclipse the achievements of any Bayern side of any era.
Those exultant voices are conspicuous by their absence today, in the wake of a disjointed performance against a limited Arsenal side who, to the surprise of anyone who has watched them this season, made the Bundesliga champions-elect look a very ordinary side.
Bayern’s defeat – their first in 2013 – left club legend Franz Beckenbauer “bewildered” and club president Uli Hoeness doubting whether they had a future in the competition.
Beckenbauer said: “I thought Dusseldorf on Saturday [a 3-2 home win] was enough. But today it was topped. They played without effort, without concentration – until the end. You can’t play like that.
“It is partly human as they had taken a 3-1 lead at Arsenal. The only good thing tonight is that they advanced. You have to learn from this. You cannot play on like this, or you exit in the next round. No matter who you play.”
Hoeness, Beckenbauer’s successor as Bayern president, also had harsh words for his team after the match.
“I think this was the final warning for the team after the bad game at Hoffenheim [a 1-0 away win] and the lucky escape against Dusseldorf [courtesy of Jerome Boateng's late winner],” Hoeness told Sport1 after the game.
“By the skin of our teeth, we managed to make it to the next round with this defeat. I have to say that in all clearness. The team has to get back to the football they played three or four weeks ago… for three weeks now we have been playing rubbish.
“I don’t care which team we are drawn to in the next round. If we play football we can beat every team and if we play like today we will not beat any team that is left in the competition.”
End of an era?
Arsenal’s elimination meant that no English club reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 1996. Inevitably, such a statistic has sparked debate about the standard of the Premier League.
Vanquished manager Arsen Wenger believes that the absence of English clubs in the last 8, should act as a warning call to a league which has basked in the certainty of its own brilliance for a number of years now.
“It’s a massive wake-up call for us and it means that the rest of European football has caught up with us,” said Wenger. “We have to take that into consideration when we talk about the Premier League in the future.”
“It’s a massive disappointment for English football.
Perhaps, although anyone who stayed awake during the all-England Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea in 2008, will not share the sense of loss.
“We accept the rest of European football has caught us,” added Wenger.
“We had Manchester City and United, Chelsea and Arsenal all out by the quarter-final.
“It’s a long time since that happened. We have to take that into consideration in the way we think about the future of the Premier League.”
However, Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes offered a more measured response to the situation.
“I think comparisons like this don’t bring much,” said Heynckes. “We have had German teams knocked out early in previous years
“I think Manchester United were unlucky to get knocked out and Arsenal showed what a quality team they are.
“You get cycles like that in football. I think the English teams will be back next year.”
Whether Arsenal will be, well that remains to be seen.
The other concern, voiced in a number of outlets today, is that England, poor souls, are in danger of dropping down to third in the UEFA coefficient list.
For the uninitiated, these statistics are used for ranking and seeding teams in club and international competitions; ultimately they determine – among other things – the number of places each country will receive in the Champions League.
Currently, Spain top the list followed by England and Germany, but there have been suggestions that England could drop to third as a result of the premature ejections of the Premier League contingent in this season’s Champions League. Will that matter? No. The country in third sport receives the same number of entrants as the country in second spot.
Moreover, England currently have three clubs still alive in the Europa League (confusingly, this neglected, unloved competition offers the same number of ranking points as the elite Champions League), which is the same number of clubs Germany has left in both competitions.
If you want to find out more about the rankings and see the current standings, here’s a handy guide.
Malaga’s most famous fan, Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas, has criticised UEFA for banning the Spanish club from future competition.
Banderas was present at the Rosaleda on Wednesday as the Qatar-owned Champions League outfit overturned a 1-0 deficit to 2004 winners Porto to advance to the quarter-finals 2-1 on aggregate.
Speaking to Canal Plus after the game, Banderas said he hoped Malaga’s appeal against the ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) would be granted.
UEFA said in its ruling published in December that Malaga had been sanctioned “due to the presence of significant overdue payables balances” and ordered the club to prove by the end of this month “that it has no overdue payables towards football clubs or towards employees and/or social/tax authorities”.
“We are still waiting for the CAS decision and we sincerely hope that justice is done,” Banderas said.
“It was an excessively harsh decision and has a negative effect on the Spanish league,” he added.
“If this decision is ratified it will take away the motivation for a team that has to play against teams fighting to avoid relegation or to get into Europe.
“I think the decision is very misguided. It should have been taken at the end of the season giving the club time to settle these debts.
“I really hope CAS analyses the situation with a cool head and gives its backing to Malaga.”
Banderas, who lives in the United States, said getting past Porto into the last eight was “an incredible triumph” for the club after their topsy turvy existence in recent years.
Malaga were paying in the second division as recently as 2008 and dropped to the fourth tier of Spanish soccer in the mid-1990s due to their economic problems.
Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, a member of the Qatar royal family, bought the club in 2010 and his spending helped them qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-placed finish last season, the investment ended abruptly with players complaining about non-payment of their wages.
“I usually watch the matches on television from afar with nobody else around and suddenly I am here with my compatriots and it’s really, really nice,” Banderas said.
“Not just the football club deserves this but the city as well, deserves this joy.
“It doesn’t matter who we get in the next round because Malaga will enjoy themselves again.
“To be among the eight best teams in Europe this year for us is an incredible triumph for the fans.
“We have been suffering for many years. It’s not only a fantastic thing for the team but for the city as well.”
Heart and Soul
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has hit out at Michel Platini’s initiative to organise Euro 2020 in 13 different cities across Europe rather than in one country.
The 2020 championships will be held in multiple nations all over Europe to mark 60 years of the tournament’s existence, but Blatter believes the tournament to be held in one country.
“I once told Michel Platini that Colonel Gaddafi presented a similar plan when he was bidding for the 2010 World Cup. He really believes in this idea, but I said it was out of the question. So Platini’s idea is nothing new,” Blatter told Kicker.
Gaddafi? Talk about tainting by association.
Blatter continued: “A tournament should be played in just one country, that creates a certain identity and euphoria. Just look at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.”
“It will not really be a European championship in the new format. You’ll have to look at it in another way, although I don’t know how exactly. A Euros like this misses heart and soul for me.”
Goal of the day
Isco’s 20-yard effort against Porto, set Malaga on the way to a place in the last eight of this season’s Champions League.
Quote of the day
“I did not fail at Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers wanted me to play as a ’10.’ But I do not play behind the forwards. I spoke with him and asked him why I was playing there. It is not my real position. The boss could not answer me… still, I do not regret it. To play in the red jersey and at Anfield is something marvellous. Maybe if I had not gone there I would not have been able to return to Borussia Dortmund. For that, I am happy. But I have left Brendan Rodgers, thank God.”
Nuri Sahin drops off Brendan Rodgers Christmas card list.
When Laurence Koscielny scored Arsenal’s second goal in Munich, Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer was determined to deny the visitors a quick re-start. Cue pandemonium in the Bayern goal as frantic Arsenal players attempt to retrieve the ball.
Bulgarian referee Ahmed Ahmed has been banned for the rest of the season for disallowing a goal in Levski Sofia’s 1-0 win over Litex Lovech in the first leg of the Bulgarian Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.
“The Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) referees’ commission has taken Ahmed Ahmed off the referees’ list until the end of the season for unsatisfactory performance during the match between Levski and Litex,” the BFU said in a statement on Thursday.
The commission, which also banned linesman Georgi Kovachev for 15 matches for his poor performance in the game, said it reserved the right to consider Ahmed’s inclusion in the referees’ list for the 2013-2014 season.
Ahmed’s ban came after a furious protest from four-times Bulgarian champions Litex over his decision to disallow an equalising goal in added time for no apparent reason.
Here’s the goal that never was, but should have been:
What price disloyalty?
Carlos Tevez is “happy” at Manchester City and has even started talks over a new contract, according to the club’s football administrator, Brian Marwood.
Marwood believes the situation has changed for the better since Tevez embarked on a self imposed exile to his homeland, Argentina, for six months in 2011. Essentially, Tevez is in a better place to continue with his Manchester City career: that place being England, which is handy considering he earns a living playing football in the country.
“Everyone knows Carlos only has a year left on his contract, but he has been fantastic for Manchester City, his scoring record, his tenacity, his energy,” Marwood told the Daily Star. “I think he is in a good place at the moment. Roberto Mancini has talked about extending Tevez’s contract and these conversations will continue in the summer.”
After a move to Serie A outfit Milan fell through during the 2012 January transfer window, the club has rebuilt its relationship with Tevez, and Marwood does not feel City is willing to entertain offers at any point in the near future.
“We have had no offers and Carlos is happy at the club. Discussions will take place at the end of the season in terms of his future at City,” Marwood said.