The 1985/86 European Champions League

Posted on October 23, 2013

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Last night, Lionel Messi scored his 63rd goal in the Champions League, in a 1-1 draw with Italian side AC Milan. Obviously, all pundits and football fans alike went up in collective orgasm at the little man, as he is now only 8 behind the all time record holder, Raul. There is a good chance that he’ll surpass this record this season, as Barcelona are expected to go far into the competition. If they reach the final in the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon in May 2014, they will play another 10 games in this years competition. As Messi scores a goal every 1.3 games, you wouldn’t want to bet against him doing so.

I’m not going to deny the talent of Lionel Messi. That would be folly, obviously, he is a ridiculously talented football player, with positioning skill that may very well be second to none in all the time I’ve been watching the sport. He is playing in a side jam packed with ludicrously talented players, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will go on to become the, and I assume this is the title that will be bestowed upon him, ‘The Greatest Champions League Goal Scorer of All Time.’

There will be no arguing the literal title, but something doesn’t sit right. Lionel Messi has scored 63 goals in 81 games. Raul scored 71 in 142. The Champions League is Europe’s premier club tournament, the tournament that was once known as the European Champions Cup before it’s evolution in 1992. Since then, the tournament has expanded from being purely for champions to now being for as many as 4 clubs from certain countries. Looking at the top 10 all time goal scorers in this competition, only two of the 10 are from prior to the Champions League era. What is telling, is the goals to games ratio of these players. Alfredo Di Stefano averaged a goal every 1.2 games for Real Madrid, better than Messi’s. Eusebio averaged a goal every 1.4 games, and only Messi and van Nistelrooy can better that in the modern era.

In fact, if you put the top scorers in order of goals to games ratio, Messi and van Nistelrooy are the only Champions League era players that feature. The top two of the list are the 13th and 12th top scorers respectively, Gerd Muller and Ferenc Puskas. Muller averaged a remarkable goal a game. A goal a game! In the European Cup! Fantastic.

Basically, what I’m getting at is that of course the top scorers list is full of modern players, because they play more games than the old European Cup format allowed. In 1985, champions Juventus played a total of 9 games on their way to the title. If they were to win this years edition, they would play 13 games. Of these 13 though, 6 would come in the group stage. How many goals would Gerd Muller had scored if he played in a competition that included a group stage as well? How about Puskas? Jan Pierre Papin?

I began to imagine what the make up of the Champions League would be, taking the current format into the past. So, using my year of birth as the year (1985), and how the current groups were drawn, this would be the group stage of the 1985 Champions League;

Group A
Everton (Eng), Dinamo Kiev (USSR), Borussia Moenchengladbach (Ger), Sporting Gijon (Esp)

The English champions would find themselves in a fairly awkward group again. No teams to fear, although a trip to Kiev was much more daunting in 1985 than it is in 2013, but you’d still expect them to progress from here.

Group B
Atletico Madrid (Esp), Verona (Ita), Velje (Den), Fenerbahce (Tur)

In the year of my birth, the champions of Serie A were Verona, the city famous for being where Romeo and Juliet were complete idiots. In the real world, they were knocked out in the second round. I wouldn’t expect them to get out of the group stage here.

Group C
Bordeaux (Fra), PAOK (Gre), Sporting Lisbon (Por), Anderlecht (Bel)

In group C we encounter the first side who would be in the same group as they are today, in Anderlecht. Bordeaux were the French Champions, and Sporting would have been the 2nd Portuguese side. Anderlecht would have a much better chance in 1985 than they do today.

Group D
Bayern Munich (Ger), Liverpool (Eng), Spartack Moscow (USSR), Sparta Prague (Cze)

In 1985, this would have been regarded as one of the groups of death. Bayern were as strong then as they are now, Liverpool were still a club of genuine relevance, and the Eastern European sides were much stronger than they are today, due to the fact that their domestic leagues were immensely strong. The strength is shown in that Sparta were knocked out in 1985 by Barcelona, on away goals.

Group E
Man Utd (Eng), Koln (Ger), Servette (Sui), Steaua (Rom)

In 2013, Man Utd fans could not be happier with this group. Koln are a 2nd division German side these days, Servette were relegated from the Swiss Super League last year, and Steaua aren’t what they once were. In 1985 however, Steaua would go on to win the competition, beating Barcelona in the final.

Group F
Tottenham (Eng), Werder Bremen (Ger), Torino (Ita), Nantes (Fra)

In the position of Arsenal in this version are Tottenham, and their group would have been as difficult in 1985 as it is today. Similar to Everton however, there are no teams here that would cause Spurs total sleepless nights, but also no walkovers. Nowadays, Bremen are a sleeping giant in Germany, Torino are an Italian yo-yo side, and Nantes have only just gained promotion back to Ligue 1.

Group G
Athletic Bilbao (Esp), Dnipro (USSR), Porto (Por), Austria Vienna (Aut)

Porto and Austria Vienna would face off in 1985 as they do in 2013, showing their historical dominance of their domestic leagues. They would be joined by two clubs that I would describe as Europa League sides. Another weak group, I must admit.

Group H
Barcelona (Esp), Inter Milan (Ita), Ajax (Net), Aberdeen (Sco)

Two more clubs in the same position as they are today, in Barcelona and Ajax, and also the definite group of death, much as it is today. This would all be spiced up by the presence of Alex Ferguson, then manager of Aberdeen. In 1985, I wouldn’t want to put a bet on who would escape from this group.

I’m not sure what the point of this was. What started off as a point about goals per game and Lionel Messi descended into me being a fool and just looking at final leagues tables from 1985. Looking at the leagues themselves was very interesting as well, looking at some of the clubs who have since fallen totally off the radar. Luton Town in England, Morton in Scotland, Como in Italy and Waldoff Mannheim in Germany. Indeed, less than a third of the clubs featuring in the groups today would have featured back in 1985.

Also, the 1985/86 European Cup quarter finals featured the following matches;
Bayern Munich vs. Anderlecht, Steaua vs. Kuuyusi, Aberdeen vs. Gothenburg, Barcelona vs. Juventus.

Can anyone tell me where Kuuyusi come from without googling it? I thought not. Football has changed quite a lot at the top of Europe it would seem.

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