Originally published August 2013
In an EXCLUSIVE, I reveal how the Champions League draw, held over 7 days in Monaco was nothing more than a farce, a pre-ordained process that allowed nothing to chance in its eventual outcome. The headlines may have been made by BALLGATE, which left Billy McNeill in tears, Michael Owen with a dislocated shoulder and ended with Luis Figo brawling with Michel Platini in a hotel lobby at 4am (due to the new Adidas Excelsior balls, which the manufacturers claim are more aerodynamic than any previous cup draw balls), but it was in the draw itself where the real scandal lay.
The draw has a number of caveats and rules that shapes who plays who. There are two coloured halves of the draw, and rules on teams from the same country, plus 74 other directives not known to the general public – until now.
Arsenal came out of the Pot Bowls first, and were drawn into Group F. So far so good. Then Chelsea came out of the pot and were placed into Pot C. The rest of the top seeds were drawn, and everything was fine. The draw for the second seeds began. Marseille were drawn into Group F, but this caused a problem, as their third kit clashes with Arsenal’s European 2nd away kit, so they had to be moved to pot D. AC Milan were drawn into Group H, then CSKA Moscow were drawn into Group D, but Marseille were already there, so they had to be moved into pot F. PSG went into Pot C, and the other second seeds were drawn without any problems, apart from when a drop of gel fell into Luis Figo’s eye and, temporarily blinded, he went down clutching his knee. The 10-minute delay was filled with a montage of previous draw highlights, including the infamous 1997 draw which descended into farce when one of the delegates did not have a pen and paper to write the draw down on.
The draw for the third set of seeds though was a scandal. Manchester City and Manchester United were both drawn in the blue half of the draw, which isn’t allowed as two teams from the same city cannot play at home on the same night. So United were moved to Group B due to their superior coefficient. Unfortunately this meant City had to move from Group C as they can’t be in a pot that is only 1 letter away from a team from the same city as this would compromise TV deals. So City were moved to Group D. Next out of the pot were Basel. They were immediately excluded from Pots A,B,D & E as past Champions League winners cannot be drawn in the group stage against a team that sounds like a herb. This left only Pots C ,G and H, as they couldn’t go into G either due to possible clashes with Viktoria Plzen, and UEFA rules stress that any team named after a girl must not be paired either with a herb, a Portuguese team (the Portuguese secretly lobbied for this rule prior to the 2006/7 draw, having previously gone out of Europe to the little known Romanian club Lily Plovdiv), or a team that won the European Cup in the 1960’s. As Basel had to be in the blue half of the draw due to a TV deal with a Czech TV station specifying they would play on a separate night as Viktoria Plzen (the station pandering to the huge Swiss population in the Prague ghettos), Basel were drawn into Group H, but had to be moved to C anyway because AC Milan were already in H and Basel can’t be drawn against a team from Milan in a group stage due to sub clause c(ii), section 14 in the UEFA Champions League draw guideline document.
Then it emerged that Arsenal couldn’t play in Group F as this would mean playing a home game that clashed with the National Cheese Festival at Olympia, whilst PSG requested no games on Tuesdays as they didn’t want supporters to miss out on a re-run on Canal+ of the 3rd season of Luther (with subtitles). Then someone pointed out that Chelsea couldn’t be drawn in the same half of the draw as Arsenal so were placed in Pot A, but this left to a fixture clash with United, so this was fixed by Borussia Dortmund swapping Groups with Bayern Munich, Shakhtar Donetsk outbid every club for the right to be drawn in Pot E, and CSKA Moscow had to have their home games moved to pre-December due to weather concerns. This meant Manchester City would be playing at home to CSKA on the same night as both Sarah Millican and Sean Lock were in town, so the kick-off had to be put back to midday, which thankfully suited the Asian markets. City agreed to play that game in their new third kit in return for a promise not to draw Barcelona at any point in the competition.
As Real Madrid’s pitch was to be used for a Nickelback concert on 26th November they had to be away that night, meaning a further swap of fixtures. This swap though would leave Manchester United & City once more playing on the same night, so for no reason Real Sociedad were moved to Group F to avoid fixture clashes. This left Chelsea in limbo so they were moved to Group G, City were temporarily placed in two groups, bringing a $15,000 fine from UEFA, before switching back to Group C. Austria Vienna played their joker card to be moved from Group H, and were moved to G, leaving Celtic in the Group of Death (H), causing Neil Lennon to go on a 2-hour rampage around Parkhead (leading to the despatch of a police helicopter). Anderlecht were placed into Pot C so that their fixtures did not clash with Yom Kippur. Ajax requested special dispensation for Match Day 3 as their players fasted every 4th Tuesday, and Zenit St Petersburg delegates stormed out of the conference hall complaining about the standard of borsch.
With one final demand from the Manchester United delegation, who requested no home matches on Matchdays 2 & 4, as “the trams will probably break down those days”, the draw was finally completed shortly after midnight. But the shocking details of that draw show that it is little more than an exercise in maintaining the status quo and assuring that the “big boys” get exactly what they want. For the cheeky upstarts like Manchester City, there was the desire to put them in their place once more. Only a sold-out Sean Lock tour and a kit clash with Borussia Dortmund’s home kit and City’s 1999 play-off final kit prevented them from being in an even harder group.