x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Money can't buy you love, but goals come at a cost

Champions League goal-fest shows that changing the competition's landscape under Platini will mean more routs.

The money keeps flowing, the goals keep coming and the European game's lustier names continue to indulge themselves. Amid the fanfare of some exquisite Champions League moments on Tuesday, there hit home a grim reality, and a type of depressing endorsement of the Uefa president Michel Platini's belief, that the landscape of European football is dominated by its largest countries and most visible and cash-rich television markets.

England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France are regarded as the dominant forces, and their main protagonists justified those leading positions with some venom on an evening spurting goals. It must be said, Villarreal, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Olympique Lyon and Arsenal stuffed their opponents. As if to highlight the gulf that exists between the the leading five countries and their smaller, aspiring brothers, the "big five", if you like, tucked away 25 goals and conceded only eight.

It is also worth noting that two of the games, Bayern Munich's 3-0 win over Fiorentina and Juventus's 2-1 win over Real Madrid, were matches contested between two of those elite nations. The pair of games not involving these loaded guns, one including last season's Uefa Cup winners Zenit St Petersburg, reaped just three, as if to illustrate the poverty of Europe's undernourished second tier. The Danish champions AaB Aalborg hit three at Villarreal but still adopted the form of lumberjacks by losing six, and Celtic could not lay a glove on Manchester United in an all-British encounter that was memorable only for the fluidity of the home side's enterprise. The theme continued elsewhere as Olympique Lyon went to Bucharest and registered a throbbing 5-3 win at Steaua, while Arsenal went on the rampage in Istanbul, lording it over Fenerbahce in a 5-2 romp. Welcome to hell only for the home team

The effort of CFR Cluj in beating AS Roma and Chelsea has been impressive this year, but their results go against the grain. Money is talking in the Champions League, and it gets louder by the year. Smaller clubs revel in the finance they get from the old European Cup, but they are still well behind what the elite sides gain from their domestic leagues. A gulf is widening in cash and class. Porto of Portugal were the last smallish side to claim the trophy in 2004, with winners and finals from England, Germany, Spain and Italy being commonplace in recent times. Platini has a vision that would allow more countries to take part. He is also concerned about football selling its soul for money with clubs lavishing themselves with overseas players at the expense of home-reared talent.

The ball may already be burst. Like the state of some of the ravaged defences after Tuesday, it seems we have some way to go to reach the Frenchman's vision of utopia. @Email:dkane@thenational.ae