The draws for both the UEFA Champions and Europa League quarter-final stages once again produced some intriguing contests but one clear factor emerging from the entire process is the lack of Eastern European teams qualifying for the later stages. Five Spanish teams constitute nearly one third of the teams remaining while Germany, England, France and Portugal are doubly represented. Unlike the previous decade when CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk lifted the Europa trophy, the absence of any Eastern zone countries is surely a cause for concern.
Admittedly, the Champions League draw has providing some very appealing ties including Manchester United facing holders Bayern Munich and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team pitting their wits against ambitious Paris Saint-Germain, but both competitions lack the unknown factor associated with the Eastern bloc countries.
Most of the teams featuring in Friday’s two draws can be viewed regularly on popular television networks hosting the major European Leagues. Yet European club tournaments should also offer the watching audiences some opportunity of studying players and teams from further afield with contrasting football styles a particular added bonus.
Perhaps a significant reason as to why Eastern European teams are not progressing so far in competition is the degree to which the better players are lured to richer Western countries with the carrot of more lucrative contracts and a greater standard of living. There is much evidence of this occurring especially with more freedom of movement within Europe and the ability of many agents to exploit the situation.
With all 16 teams in the 2014 quarter-finals emanating from Western Europe, there is the long term danger that a similar scenario will develop in future tournaments to the detriment of football in the East. Players from teams in the East may use the early rounds as a means of displaying their positive individual attributes rather than focussing on helping the team to progress further.
Thus the drift of football talent towards the West could continue with dwindling Eastern crowds unimpressed with the quality of football on display and although the clubs will gain financial rewards from any ensuing transfer fees, attracting replacements will be no easy task. Russian teams have tried to stem the tide but their efforts seem to be faltering.
Reversing this trend may become a problem for UEFA should the television public become disinterested in watching the same teams competing at the latter stages of their tournaments as their monopoly increases season upon season and the level of unpredictability lessens.
No football fan will deny that Real Madrid versus Borussia Dortmund is a typically engrossing Champions League quarter-final tie, but there is also the danger that the latter stages of European club tournaments will continue to be dominated by teams from the elite leagues with the associated financial rewards heading in the same direction.