Sportsball 69 is a walk through the anthropology of the world’s football, done (hopefully) in three installments every solstice or equinox. For this first excursion, I decided to take a stroll through Europe professional class football, as it’s the most notable – the one you all see, whether that be English Premier League or UEFA Champions League. It’s the one most “soccer fans” in America associate with the world’s football, and having transcended from dumb American into cultured Worldyte. The criteria I used for this collection of teams is how many matches they’ve played in all rounds of the UEFA Champions League over the course of the past 17 years, weighted more heavily for recent years, and thus ranked them accordingly to their dork science power metric which is far more of a rubric than a metric to be honest. “Metric” sounds like data science bullshit which is manipulated by algorithms to brainwash and then heartwash people into thinking they are machines, thus dehumanizing each other, and then committing species suicide. “Rubric” sounds more magical, and for me the world’s football is a magical mess of sedimentary human culture. But in order to pick a good entry point, I’ve decided to dig into these 69 teams, briefly, through their stadium, aka “home ground”. Despite me just putting this in an America vs. The World context, American capitalism has gone global, and football is not impervious to this, not at all. In fact, there’s levels of incredibly wealthy clubs in Europe who want to break away to form their own Super League, to hijack all the American (and global) attention to the sport. Meanwhile, below this, in Champions League, are domestic powerhouses plying in the qualifying rounds, hoping to make group stage against the big clubs, and getting stomped out. All trash anthropology eventually goes back to them dolla dolla bills, y’all. So let us begin…
#1: REAL MADRID CF – Real Madrid has won the UEFA Champions League four out of the past five years, and despite Cristiano Ronaldo going to Italy, they remain a top European club full of high-priced players from around the Earth. Since 1947 they’ve played in Santiago Bernabeu Stadium stuffed into the middle of Madrid. The stadium has been renovated a number of times over the years, at one point in the olden days seating 125,000 people. In the rush in the 1990s to eliminate disasters of overcrowding at soccer matches, it was forced to modernize, and since then has attempted to keep up with the revenue flows of popular clubs. The anomaly of Real Madrid is that it’s owned by club members, like an old-fashioned sporting club, instead of some rich fucker or consortium taking over. They have done some “creative” aka questionable deals of selling training grounds in the early 21st century to large investment corporations at marked-up prices in order to fund this past era of domination. Because of this, they’re one of the most popular clubs in the world, so that global revenues actually maintain the club’s finances without a wealthy oligarchical entity to do so. It will be interesting to see what happens as the Ronaldo era is over though, but then again Real Madrid does not need to even attempt to contend for title in their home nation... they finished 3rd last year and currently sit fourth. Their goal is to beat Barcelona in El Clasico, and continue to contend for the Champions League title. They drew Ajax of the Netherlands in the Round of 16 for early next year, one of the weaker clubs left in the competition, so look good to at least make it to the quarterfinals yet again, even without Ronaldo. As long as that is happening, winning La Liga is secondary.
#2: FC BARCELONA – Barcelona, perhaps the most popular club globally, also is tucked into the middle of a large Spanish city, albeit under entirely different geopolitical circumstances, because Barcelona is part of Catalonia, which threatens independence constantly from Spain, and Barca is the Catalan’s crown jewel of cultural achievement. Normal ass people know of them because of Lionel Messi, but they’ve had multiple eras of top global dominance. And yet somehow, Messi remains jinxed to a certain extent, albeit jinxed at top level means they’ve won the Champions League four times this century already, and are favorites to contend again this cycle. They play at Camp Nou, which literally means “the new field”, and was built in 1947. Even after European soccer revamped stadiums to eliminate standing only sections, it still can seat almost 100,000 people (which is fucking crazy). In the overhead shot of the city itself, you can see the importance of FC Barcelona’s footprint on its namesake city, as other soccer-related fields and structures stretch from the stadium further southwest. The stadium is also home to the Catalonia national team, which is not recognized by either FIFA or UEFA. Even before UN recognition, one of the earliest forms of identity for regions looking for independence from whoever rules them is staking out FIFA recognition. The Catalan team is pretty far behind other areas like Gibraltar and Kosovo which have gained UEFA and FIFA recognition in recent years. There’s also a Basque national team feeding Basque territory desire for independence from Spanish rule, so Gibraltar as denied UEFA membership for many years by Spain, for fear of inspiring Basque and Catalonia further. The politics of football with the people is way stronger than most Americans would ever realize, and in fact in all those Barcelona jerseys you see kids wearing, the red and yellow striped portion of the club crest patch is the Catalan flag, a symbol of their quest for independence.
#3: FC BAYERN MUNICH – Bayern Munich is in what you’d consider a down year, having absolutely dominated the German Bundesliga for a number of years, but are currently in 3rd, and six points behind leader Borussia Dortmund. Their home stadium, Allianz Arena, is signifier of German prosperity as well as exemplary of German stereotypical cultural psychology. As you can see from the overhead shot, this was parceled into an outer ring of Munich, with geometric flair applied to the surrounding roadways as this enormous mosque of football rose out the Earth. The stadium itself is the largest color-changing structure in the world, being outfitted with exterior plastic panels that can be altered. (They make it red for Bayern Munich matches, white for German national team matches, and blue for a lower-tier club 1860 Munich, which also plays in the stadium. Oddly, that team was relegated to the third-level of German football after the 2017 season, and thus gave up their home in the stadium, moving to a smaller venue, only seating 15,000.) Bayern Munich is the last non-Spanish league club (can’t really call Barcelona a Spanish club I guess) to win the Champions League, and has one of the most highly anticipated Round of 16 draws against Liverpool beginning of next year. Bayern features French fucker Franck Ribery though, who looks like a complete asshole, and is one of my least favorite players. They also possess an assortment of hated figures like Arjen Robben and Jerome Boateng, making them the biggest heels in Bundesliga, when combined with their dominance, so when I am watching German matches on Spanish language sports channels in my American South living room on Saturday mornings, usually I am cussing all those fucking waving red and white flags. And unfortunately, the flags usually win.
#4: ARSENAL FC – Yes, according to my rubric, Arsenal is fourth, which yes, seems weird. But it’s true. The club, well-known as a hip favorite in America (you often see bearded dudes rocking the red jerseys with the little cannon crest patch), and has been a prominent London club, situation in the north central part of the city. Historically, their most famous ground was Highbury, which was a traditional slow-rising football arena, where a stand was built on each side of the ground, one by one. Thus, in the early 1990s when eliminated standing sections became required, especially in England, where the Hillsborough disaster occurred, where 96 people died and nearly 800 people were injured when throngs of fans got crushed during a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield; this event was the main public catalyst for eliminating standing sections, but also worked hand-in-hand with the creation of the Premier League in the early ‘90s, which capitalized on a growing global market for football, on television, to boost top clubs into an entirely different level of existence. In fact, in England, Arsenal (along with fellow London clubs Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Liverpool) help make up “the Big 6” of clubs who live on a different level of revenue than the rest of English football. This led to Arsenal being able to build their current home, Emirates Stadium, in 2004. Highbury could only seat 38,000 people once converted to an all-seated stadium, thus a new actual stadium, with circular continuous shape instead of different stands on each side of the pitch, was required to keep up revenues and metaphysical presence. But Arsenal remains a bridesmaid and never a bride, the closest to a big trophy they’ve come to this century being losing the Champions League finale to Barcelona in 2006, and winning the Premier Leauge in both 2002 and 2004. But the past decade has seen nothing but unrealized dreams, and in fact they are the first team on this list who did not make the knockout rounds of this season’s Champions League.
#5: CHELSEA FC – Fellow London club Chelsea is situated in west central London, in the same grounds it has played in since the club’s inception in 1905, at Stamford Bridge. The overhead shot shows that, with the stadium not being a giant rounded feat of modern engineering, but instead a relatively simple box where stands grew on each edge of the field over time, and were eventually joined at the corners to increase seating capacity. The River Thames is to the southeast, and the surrounding neighborhoods are endless rowhouses, with Brompton Cemetery just to the northeast. (I think that’s where DJ Quik is getting buried upon death.) Current owner of Chelsea is global capitalist and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who has been instrumental in the club’s most recent era of high expectations and financial output. His most high profile conflict was with controversial (and recently shit-canned at Manchester United) Jose Mourinho, who Abramovich had more than one run of conflict with. Chelsea, being one of the Big Six, has that unattainable expectation to win everything every year, which means that really good managers get fired for not finishing first, which of course is impossible, especially when you’re one of the Big Six, not just the Big One. Chelsea is currently fourth in the Premier League (out of 20 teams), which would appear on surface level as solid ground, but they’re also 8 points out of the lead before Christmas, which is not good ground at all. Case in point is the aforementioned Mourinho, who was sacked because Manchester United is sixth, and nearly 20 points behind league leader’s Liverpool. That’s the incredible disparity in top and not top clubs in modern football, with other clubs even in the Premier League having no chance at competing. The inequality we see in our everyday life is very much represented in football structure as well.
#6: MANCHESTER UNITED FC – Shit, I should’ve waited to write about Manchester United and Mourinho’s sacking with their listing. Oh well. I’m just a fuckin’ dude writing a bunch of dumb shit for fun... I’ve got no editor other than my own soul. Manchester United is one of the most popular global clubs, and probably the one I hate more than any other. Not even sure why, other than the fact they won all the time for many years, and usually if there’s some asshole soccer fan who wants to tell you about the team they love, it’s Manchester United. This sits at odds with the club itself, situated in a less-than-glorious former industrial city. Looking at the satellite view, you can see this, with sprawling railyard and shipping warehouses not far to the west of Old Trafford, Manchester United’s “newest” stadium, where they’ve played since 1910. Being it’s so old, it’s another stadium that grew organically, one stand by one stand, with the corners connected eventually to increase capacity. This is very obvious from the satellite view of Manchester. And yet the ground has been glossed and shined over the years, as ownership finds ways to spend their incredible revenue. Highest staked owners in the club’s ownership consortium are American businessmen the Glazer brothers, who are mostly despised by traditional Manchester United fans, who are known from the olden days as a drunken tattooed hooligan lot. In fact, the combination of American ownership with the corporate globalism of the Premier League moving the game from standing sections full of drunken fools to seated arenas for the wealthy elite, helped spark a supporters’ club called FC United of Manchester. Longtime fans of the club, angry over the new ownership, funded their own club, which currently competes in the sixth tier of English football, and is the largest fan-owned club in England by number of members. Interestingly enough, I was part owner of Swansea City AFC for a few years, before cancelling my support in protest of their own American owners. Fuck America.
#7: JUVENTUS FC – Juventus is currently the top team in Italy’s domestic league, one that has been boosted on the international stage by the capture of Cristiano Ronaldo this past summer, but also one that has had one of the sickest all-time jerseys in their pink kit with the Jeep sponsorship on the front. Soccer jerseys are hard to rock because of the sponsorship bullshit; like I’m not trying to be an ad for a corporation on top of already advertising for a team. Juventus plays in our second Allianz Stadium of the list so far, and I’m not really sure what Allianz even is. (I just forced myself to google it, then immediately was disappointed because it was unnecessary information, and I’m getting old, and the brain’s foggy enough without stuffing useless shit like that into it, especially when that’s the entire purpose of stadium sponsorship deals, is to put shit that doesn’t matter into my mind like it does matter.) Juventus has lost in the Champions League final twice the past four years, and is certainly – with the arrival of stupid Ronaldo, hoping to challenge to actually win the continental championship for the first time since 1996. They’ve been losers of the final five times total since that victory over Ajax. Most of Italy’s football powers are based in northern Italy, and Juventus, situated in Turin, squatting against the southern Alps. My personal dislike of Ronaldo is too strong to give Juventus any benefit of the doubt ever again though, despite the vintage pink jerseys, despite their black and white striped normal jerseys, despite there being no real reason for me to dislike them. The arrival of Ronaldo solidifies them as strong Italian example of shit modern football to be fucked off entirely forever.
#8: CELTIC FC – Celtic is the first club to show up on this list primarily from the qualifying rounds and outside of the Big 5 nations of domestic leagues. Just as England has its upper tier of club, the continent has its upper-tier of domestic leagues, from England, Germany, Spain, France, and Italy. Ever since their blood grudge rivals Rangers were sent into administration due to questionable economics a couple of times over the past decade or so, Celtic has become the unrivaled Kings of Scotland. This creates an odd situation for a smaller domestic league, because as the major clubs are on summer holiday, chasing transfers or at least in the “let’s create rumors” stage of that, Celtic is already forced into early qualifying rounds of the Champions League, to fight for one of the excess group stage slots which UEFA is quickly squeezing away from non-big five nation leagues. Celtic didn’t even make it this year, relegated to the Europa League, but even in making the group stage in previous years, it becomes a chance to try and compare yourself to bigger clubs, but generally getting that 3rd place finish to go to Europa League anyways before the knockout stages happen. They last made it past group stage in Champions League in 2013, and before that 2008. A good friend of mine is die-hard Celtic fan, and there’s this almost delusional belief that if they got into the English Premier League, they’d be like the Manchesters and Liverpools, but it has the feel of American college basketball ponzi schemes, where you join a bigger conference and become great, but then those big conferences become gluts, and smaller conferences fail. I’d personally rather remain kings of Scotland, continue crushing fuckers all season long, and try to drop double digits on Rangers twice a year.
#9: FC PORTO – FC Porto is a top Portuguese club, situated on the northern coast of the small nation, which has a much larger football tradition than its size would suggest (including winning the last Euro 2016 shockingly). Porto and rival Benfica have been the top two clubs in Portugal for a while, having won the past 16 domestic championships, and in fact if you throw in third wheel Sporting CP, other clubs in Portugal have won the title only once since 1946. Porto’s stadium is called the Dragon Stadium, and was built beginning of this century to replace their previous, terrace-era stadium. Perhaps a notch above Celtic, due to the fact Portuguese clubs do sneak into the knockout stages regularly, but only from those top two clubs, Porto is actually drawn against Schalke 04 for this coming Champions League Round of 16. In fact, Porto won the Champions League in 2004. The overhead view of Porto with the stadium is obvious corporate era structure – a white dot with green opening to allow for grass situated with geometric perfection in the midst of old sprawling irregular network of red roofs and green parks. There’s a large congregation of white industrial looking buildings to the east of the stadium, which I assume are part of the entire enclave, related to sports as industry, which is what it is at that level, a giant godless industry which pretends the workingman spirituality of the early days somehow is still present in the endorsement-heavy commercialized flat screen display earth of what is considered modern football now. The sad thing is seeing the attendance of these domestic clubs’ matches against lesser but long-time top league rivals. I’d imagine Porto survives off their Benfica matches, and European competitions. The rest becomes casual affairs lacking the same dopamine pushes.
#10: FC SHAKHTAR DONETSK – Shakhtar Donetsk is a strange club currently, having long been a consistent presence in the old Soviet football leagues, and traditionally the most popular club in Ukraine post-independence. This popularity is strongest in their home region in the eastern Ukraine, which has been involved in civil conflict/invasion with Russia. I’ve used their official home stadium of Donbass Arena, in Donetsk, for the purposes of this overhead shot, but Shakhtar hasn’t played there the past three seasons, being forced by war to move further west, into safer environs, playing in Lviv two seasons, then in Kharkiv the past two. This is all pretty sad because Shakhtar Donetsk is heavily funded by oligarch/venture capitalist owner Rinat Akhmetov. (In the west, we call them “venture capitalists” but in former Soviet stages, they are called “oligarchs” but it’s the same fucking thing; not sure why they get the neoliberal benefit of the doubt in the west when it’s the same fucking throat choke of all wealth from the rest of society, whether venturing with capital or oligarching.) Donbass Arena was built in 2008 and only opened for the 2009 season, thus Shakhtar only got a half dozen seasonal runs in their fancy new home before the conflict sent them fleeing west to protect their investments. Even then, they didn’t officially move until artillery shelling damaged the stadium itself. And though the conflict continues on, the stadium has been mostly repaired, with the grass pitch back into playing shape this past summer, though the club still plays almost 200 miles to the north. There’s a long history in eastern Europe (especially the former Yugoslavia) of football pitches being burial grounds, and stadiums being battle-scarred. The beauty of the world’s football is the clubs and stadiums and competitions outlast governments, unlike in America, where I have always imagined an end to the United States means an end to the NFL. That’s not a true cultural institution if you can’t survive simple shit like the dissolution of government.
#11: FC BATE BORISOV – Another eastern European entry that is King of their domestic league, in this case, Belarus, which is sort of independent of Russia post-Soviet Union, but sort of not, because Alexander Lukashenko became President in 1994, has remained an ally of Putin’s, and is still president. The “BATE” part of the club name is wonderful traditional eastern European footballing workingman nomenclature, as it stands for Borisov Automobile and Tractor Electronics, now in their second existence. They operated from 1973 through 1984, and then re-established in 1996, and are by far the most popular and successful club already, having won the Belarusian Premier League the past 13 seasons. Their stadium is a wonderful midway between the garish opulence of western temples of corporate sporting success, and more traditional oligarchical monstrosities of that type, as an oblong new silver bud with asphalt parking petals blossomed in a clearing west of industrial areas in tiny Barysaw, Belarus. They’ve made Champions League group play five times in their shortened history already, with a 4-7-19 record in that group play, including a 3-1 win over Bayern Munich at home one time. That being said, to put it in comparison with our last listed club, they were in the same Champions League group with Shakhar Donetsk four years back, and suffered a 0-7 drubbing at home, plus a 0-5 loss away. They did not even make group stage of Champions League this season, but did survive the Europa League group stages, and have been drawn against Arsenal for that competition’s Round of 32, beginning in February. And that relatively new stadium built for the express purpose of Belarus’ top club? It seats about 13,000 – far less than most major college basketball arenas in America.
#12: SL BENFICA – Benfica is that other top Portuguese club, and though they didn’t rubric as high as Porto on this list, all-time they’re easily the most decorated and popular Portguese club, having won 36 domestic championships, plus being the only Portguese club to win back-to-back European titles, albeit all the way back in 1961 and 1962. Unlike Porto, they are situated in the capital city of Lisbon, which was also built in the early 21st century, to keep up with the all-seater stadiums of clubs from larger domestic leagues they were attempting to keep pace with on the continental scale. Benfica’s stadium is called Estadio de Luz, replacing an older stadium of the same name, which seated 120,000 folks in the traditional circular terrace and bleacher style of the old ways. This state-of-the-art Estadio de Luz *only* seats around 65,000, and has a weird red and clear polycarbonate roof structure, which allows sunshine to come through, fitting for the rough translation of the stadium’s name to Stadium of Light. The national team of Portugal plays many home matches here as well. The best of Benfica history though is about those back-to-back continental wins, engineered by their manager Bela Guttmann, a Hungarian man, who went to the club’s board for a pay raise after winning the European cup two years in a row. They refused, to Guttmann put a curse on the club, saying they’d “not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champion.” And since that curse, they’ve made the final of eight continental competitions – five in the European Cup (now known as Champions League) and three in the Europa League, including 2013 and 2014 back-to-back, and they’ve lost them all, despite dominating some of those most recent affairs. They remain a national powerhouse though, but that does little to sooth the fears of curse-weary supporters.
#13: GNK DINAMO ZAGREB – Okay, much of the basis of my football cultural anthropology interest has stemmed specifically from the fall of Yugoslavia, because of this very club. In May of 1990, when Croatian independence was getting some traction, Serbian/Croatian tensions were high. Keep in mind, the Soviet Union hadn’t yet fallen apart, so Yugoslavia came apart just before that started to happen. Dinamo Zagreb is the most popular club in now Croatia, and Red Star Belgrade was the top club from what is now Serbia. At Maksimir Stadium (as seen in overhead shot), visiting Red Star supporters came to fight, which is not uncommon, politics or not. But adding the political tension of Serb/Croat tensions, with most of the police force being Serbian in Yugoslavia at the time, created a powder keg. Fighting happened in the streets beforehand, and riots jumped off during the match, flares thrown constantly, and eventually visiting supporters tore up their section, chanting “Zagreb is Serbian”, in resistance to having stones thrown at them by Dinamo supporters. Red Star supporters went onto the pitch, protected by the police, but Dinamo supporters followed, and police went off, calling in reinforcements and water cannons and armored vans. Most notably was Boban’s kick, because many Dinamo players were still on the field, and cops were beating the shit out of some dude in blue, so Zvonimir Boban came running up and kicked the cop in the fucking chest in a moment of beauty. He became a Croatian folk hero because of that. That particular football match is considered by many (including me, obviously) to be the beginning of the civil war that would end Yugoslavia, and in fact, to this very day, UEFA has to keep former Yugoslav states and clubs separated as much as possible in group draws for all their competitions. Even then, as was seen with Albania/Serbia qualifying match four years ago, it’s hard to avoid with so many former Yugoslav nations now in existence, and those ethnic tensions still strong and unresolved.
#14: ATLETICO MADRID – Football is a trash culture anthropology of rivalries of two, with lesser rivalries of two mixed, which are secondary to the primary rival, in complex relationships much like human ones, where a spurned lover still thinks about their former partner, who has already moved on to new dramatic endeavors. Atletico Madrid is perfect footballing example of this, being the natural city rivals to Real Madrid, yet conditions making it so their inter-Madrid rivalry is secondary to El Clasico, and the Real/Barcelona derby. Atletico, in the past few years, has consistently been the third best in Spain, and historically has won the third most titles as well. In terms of stadiums, their current home for just over the past year, is Wanda Metropolitano, which was originally built by the city of Madrid to get a sporting event in 1997. It was shut down to be renovated or changed as part of Madrid’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, but they ain’t get that shit, so it was reopened and renovated entirely, once ownership was transferred from city to club. You can see from overhead satellite picture, it’s situated in a cleared area of Madrid, and replaced their previous stadium they’d been at for half a century, which had been more centrally located in the city. But even though crosstown rivals Real Madrid have won the Champions League the past two seasons, Atletico finished ahead of them in La Liga last season, and currently sit in second this season. Manager Diego Simeone is a name that often pops up for high profile jobs elsewhere, but he’s remained with Atletico since 2011 – a remarkably long spell of stability at that level of club football.
#15: OLYMPIACOS FC – Olympiacos is one of the most popular and successful clubs in Greek soccer history, and plays in a stadium that is about as old as they come – Karaiskakis Stadium, originally built in Athens as a velodrome for the 1896 Olympics. Please note that is the 1896 Olympics. Olympiacos played there from their inception, briefly leaving to play in a different Olympic Stadium in 1984, where they lived for five years, before returning to their old home. And though technically it’s at the same site, and has a same name, Olympiacos took possession of the place once it had become all fucked up and decrepit in the early 2000s, and the club demolished the old stadium and built a new one, having sole ownership and use of the stadium for fifty years. In the ‘80s, in a big city derby between Olympaicos and AEK Athens, twenty-one supporters of the home club died at Gate 7, rushing out the stadium to celebrate an Olympiacos win. A door was still shut, and some fans fell over on the bottom steps, and others fell on top of them, and people kept coming out in jubilation, crushing to death the victims. Because of this, even after multiple renovations and an entire rebuild, twenty-one black and red seats are kept colored differently than the rest of the stadium, in the shape of a 7. Gate 7 supporters, a hooligan firm, has grown from that historical event. Olympiacos themselves, are a hugely successful club for a non-big five nation club, having made it to the Champions League knockout rounds three times, though never advancing past the Round of 16, the last time they did so, losing to Manchester United in 2014.
#16: FC BASEL – Basel is a top team in the Swiss Super League, with Basel having won it all but four times since the Swiss Super League was created in 2003. Up until that point, there’d been a bit more parity in Swiss football, but since Basel has dominated, though the unfortunately named Young Boys won the title last season, and are already a whopping 19 points ahead of Basel this season, only halfway through. Having previously played in St. Jakob Stadium for nearly half a century, it was torn down in 1998 and replaced by a new stadium called St. Jakob-Park. It’s very interesting to see the correlation between football tragedies in the ‘80s, which was used as justification to eliminate open cheaper seating in bigger leagues, and enforce all-seater stadiums as a requirement, which then started trickling down to the largest clubs in other domestic leagues. So Basel has the largest, nicest stadium in all of Switzerland, which allows them to remain one of the top clubs in the country, only recently being challenged by Young Boys, who also had a new stadium built over top an old one in the early 21st century. The interwoven tendrils of stadiums and size and sponsorship and creating the inequality in domestic leagues which leaves a small number of clubs, often times one, at the top, who then make the Champions League, but don’t really challenge in any real way, but still feeds money back to the club which further drives the divide between them and their domestic counterparts. FC Basel has made it to the Round of 16 of the Champions League’ knockout phase three times since 2012, including last season, where they fell to Manchester City, though they did score a 2-1 away victory at Etihad Stadium in the second leg.
#17: PFC CSKA MOSCOW – CSKA Moscow is probably the secondary club in Moscow, behind Spartak, but has a sizable following, and has won over a dozen domestic titles themselves. They played in a small arena for many years, with capacity of only 4600, but build a new stadium in the past fifteen years, called Arena CSKA but carrying the sponsorship title of VEB Arena. Russia’s Premier League, post-capitalism, particularly in Moscow, has been a wild breed of money and power. CSKA was traditionally the army’s official team throughout Soviet era, even partially owned by the Ministry of Defence. They’re currently owned by the Giner family, who run a few energy and hotel companies. Most notable for the current CSKA club is their captain and lifelong GK, Igor Akinfeev, who was instrumental in major Russian shockers at this past summer’s World Cup, blocking two penalties in a shootout shock victory over Spain. He was lauded as a wonderful Russian, who never left the club of his youth in Moscow to go chase bigger paychecks in more affluent western European cities. Of course, it’s hard to overlook the potential corruption woven through football at all levels, with FIFA being outright corrupt over the past few decades, and Russia being a breeding ground for corruption as well, which is not to say America is above all that, because this country isn’t. We just don’t have our shit together well enough to be corruptingly successful in football. I am hopeful the fall of America will change that though, and we’ll have a new era of Latin style football, making us like a larger Uruguay. Of course these are pipe dreams, because America will refuse to give up the global ponzi scheme, and in fact all that might happen is a different flavor of salesman will take over the top spots, which might be what is happening on geopolitical scale right now.
#18: APOEL FC – APOEL is by far the most successful club on the tiny Mediterranean island Cyprus’ First Division league, having won 27 titles, including the past six, and being a consistent presence in Champions League qualifying rounds over the past twenty years, famously making it to the quarterfinals in 2012, beating Lyon in the Round of 16, to face off (and get crushed) by Real Madrid in the round of eight. Halfway through this season, they are actually in second right now, behind AEL Limassol. Cyprus itself is a strange geopolitical entity, mostly a Greek-identifying island, though there are pockets of Turkish identity, and in fact ownership of the island has been contested by the two nations over time. APOEL is based in Nicosia, the largest city in the northern end of the island, and they share GSP Stadium with fellow First Division club Omonia. The overhead shot shows a vast stadium complex growing out farmlands west of the city’s hub, and even though it would be a small stadium in major leagues on continental Europe, at 22,000 capacity, it’s the largest stadium in Cyprus. The island has a population of less than a million people, and APOEL’s city of Nicosia has almost half that population. Nicosia was the front line of the Turkish/Greek division, segregating itself into two sections. The southern part, Greek, is recognized as Cyprus by the world, while the northern part is piece of Northern Cyprus, only recognized internationally by Turkey. Northern Cyprus has a dope alternative kit Turkish flag that is white with red star and crescent moon, instead of the Turkish version. But due to all their qualifying round successes, as well as sneaking through the quarterfinals that one time, APOEL is able to crack our Champions League rubric at a relatively high spot.
#19: MANCHESTER CITY FC – Manchester City is a strange myth of footballing dominance, because they’re considered one of the Big Six in English football, but they also were relegated famously for a few years in the 1990s. (It is weird to see a resurgence in ‘90s bullshit being engineered by television documentaries, because that crap has been on, and now styles are echoing the ‘90s, and I see people posting about that shit online. Fuck off with that weak mental engineering shit.) City is of course owned by an investment company that’s based in United Arab Emirates but Chinese-owned as well. With Pep Guardiola rolling in, after last season’s crushing run, the false declaration of City’s dominance over English soccer was made, although Liverpool have shown up this season to challenge that notion. Manchester City has no strong history in continental football beyond the past decade, in fact never having made it to the knockout rounds of the modern Champions League era until three years ago. They’ve only made it past that initial Round of 16 twice, but that was two out of the last three seasons, losing to Real Madrid in the 2016 semifinals, and then Liverpool last season in the quarterfinals. Thinking of them as a lock to challenge for the championship seems silly to me, though they have a lighter first round draw against Schalke 04 to start their campaign. Their rise in stature under their international ownership group coincides with their new stadium being built in 2003, which is a giant structural monument to corporate football. It’s hard to really like Manchester City to be honest, and having Guardiola’s little asshole self managing things with an unlimited budget only make it worse. I hope they lose everything forever, which by their standards means finishing second.
#20: OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS – French football, despite the national teams stature, has been a weird series historically of various clubs becoming dominant for a period. For Lyon, this period was the early 2000s, with them winning Ligue 1 from 2002 through 2008. That seven year era has been their only domestic league championships. That period saw them make it to the Champions League quarterfinals three seasons in a row (2004-2006) and then the Round of 16 three seasons in a row (2007-2009), followed by a semifinal run in 2010, then back to just Round of 16s. They fell out of making it beyond Group Stage for a few seasons, falling behind Paris Saint-Germain’s ridiculousness, but made their way back to the knockout round this season, unfortunately drawn against Barcelona. Part of this is because of a new home ground – Parc Olympique Lyonnais – which opened early 2016, replacing the old traditional box stadium with one stand growing at a time that was Stade de Gerland, where they had played for nearly a century. The new stadium is a largely open stadium surrounded by a large team training complex, creating an enclave of Olympique Lyonnais in the city. To the west are old neighborhoods, and to the east, commercial districts, leading up to the stadium. French football at domestic level has become a case of PSG running away with everything while everybody else contests the other two Champions League qualifying spots, hoping to finish second to start straight in the group stage. Currently, Lyon are in third, just barely, firmly in Champions League qualifying, but with a lot of season left to go, and PSG just pulling further and further away, with stupid fucking Neymar. And yet according to my dork rubric, Lyon are still the better club at this point, and the best in France.
#21: LIVERPOOL FC – Liverpool’s stadium on the overhead shot doesn’t even make sense, it’s like weird twisted mathematical Sim City nonsense. Anfield is one of the oldest grounds in England, and it retains that old school square feel with east, west, north, and south stands all rising separately over the pitch. But the club has undertaken large efforts to update and modernize (and monetize) the place in the past ten years, even if done so under ownership of Fenway Sports Group from America, which left longtime supporters feeling less than happy. However, the recent run under Jurgen Klopp, led by Mo Salah (Allah’s gift to us all) has energized a long-suffering fanbase into believing they might finally win some shit. They made it to the Champions League final last season, before Mo Salah was hit with a fireball and illegal piledriver by Sergio Ramos, but hopes are high with them edging out Man City right now in the EPL table, and hoping to return to Champions League glory, even though they drew Bayern Munich for the Round of 16. In terms of stadium talk, it’s worth noting that the Hillsborough disaster in England, where 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at a stadium in Sheffield, along with the Heysel disaster, where 39 mostly Italian fans were crushed to death trying to escape conditions at a match between Liverpool and Juventus, were both reasons given for banning English clubs from European competitions briefly in the ‘80s, due to their hooligans’ behavior, and also to institute all seated stadiums, no more terraces or standing sections. This, combined with the repackaging of English football as the Premier League, helped usher in this current era of modern football. It’s fucked up to think of all the dead people that was built upon. Anyways, I love Mo Salah, so love Liverpool for as long as he is there.
#22: PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN FC – PSG is the Manchester City of French football, meaning they are owned by that Arab money. Despite this current stature of dominant force, they’ve never really been that dominant, with only seven domestic league titles so far (though more to come in current economic spot), but have been consistently a knockout stage representative since 2013. They went to the quarterfinals four seasons in a row, before only making it to the Round of 16 the past two. This season, they are drawn against Manchester United, in what might be an interesting match-up now that Jose Mourinho has been fired. The Paris Saint-Germain roster is like you’re playing Football Manager with unlimited money, featuring Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani, Angel di Maria, Dani Alves, to complement star Neymar from South America, along with infamous Italian GK Gianluigi Buffon, and World Cup 2018 star Kylian Mbappe. It’s just a ridiculously expensive and talented roster, and yet, so often we see in football that just assembling all the top stars together doesn’t ensure success. Egos rub each other the wrong way, and it’s hard to imagine Neymar ever deferring to anyone else. French clubs can only have four players without EU citizenship, so PSG have been more creative than most in finding guys with dual citizenship. The club plays their home matches at Parc des Princes, which is not too far from the Seine River, in a southwest section of Paris, and while it’s been their stadium since the late 1960s, it’s undergone major renovations in the past five years. You ain’t getting Neymar to come play at some old ass stadium. He’ll only roll around in agonizing performative pain on the finest pitches money can buy.
#23: AC MILAN – Milan is one of the wealthiest and successful clubs in Italy. Juventus has won the most domestic titles, but Milan and Inter Milan are tied for second with 18 domestic championships each. The two clubs share not only a city but a stadium – San Siro, which is nearly 100 years old but has been renovated multiple times over the course of that history. Most city rivalries in football where there are two teams have a working class team and a middle class team. AC Milan is Milan’s working class club in that traditional set-up, and has a passionate support base often described as leftist, though the whole of Italian football seemed to move right under Silvio Berlusconi’s presidential reign. The club consistently made it to the Champions League semifinals in the first decade of this century, and was part of fourteen clubs that formed a G-14 group of super clubs which attempted to engineer the direction of club football in Europe. Milan’s not been as successful in recent years, though they remain always near the top of the Serie A table, and qualified for European competition. After a quarterfinal knockout loss to Barcelona five years ago, they only made it to the Round of 16 two seasons, then didn’t even qualify for Champions League the past two. This season, they didn’t even advance out of Europa League group stage, eliminated on equal points to Olympiacos by goal differential. They currently sit fifth on the Serie A table this season at the midway point, a full two wins behind Inter Milan, and already 22 points behind dominant Juventus. It’s interesting how they were right there with Juventus in the 2000s, forming an elite union of super clubs, and now they are firmly a level below. Nothing is forever, though capitalism tries to tell us otherwise on a constant basis.
NEXT UPDATE OF CLUBS 24-46, next week?