Thursday, in one of the smallest countries in the world, a bunch of soccer teams and their fans found out what their mid-week travel schedule will be until early December. Thirty-two teams were slotted into eight groups of four during the Champions League draw, which was held in Monaco. Some teams have tougher roads than others. More on that later.
Monaco is a city with country capabilities. Someone decided the big world needed a tiny city-state where all the world’s rich people could hang out and own a beautiful piece of coastline with their yachts. Rich people probably decided this. And my goodness what a magnificent job they did in building that place. Monaco is along the French riviera, a half marathon from Nice, which is a blast of color that locks elbows with the Mediterranean Sea.
This is where UEFA holds most of its friendly intramural gatherings. That should tell you most that you need to know about world soccer organizations.
And because it’s 2014, you could transplant yourself from wherever you were on Thursday in this world to that little country. You could watch the largely meaningless event on a phone in class, or on a work computer, or at a bar during work hours, etc. etc. Soccer psychos basically do that every weekend anyway.
(An aside: If I hadn’t seen a ton of UEFA people and official team accounts tweeting pictures of Monaco, I would have thought maybe they weren’t actually there. That dark room with the bright blue presentation could have been on a Disney cruise liner.)
If you’re a soccer fan you probably have some story about how you were steering with your knees going 80 watching on a cell phone as Sergio Aguero won Manchester City the title in 2012, and you probably talk about how that was the moment you stopped lying about loving any sport more than soccer. You might say you didn’t have a rooting interest but you were crying anyway because the joy in that stadium was just about the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen. Every American soccer fan certainly has a story like that, I’d think.
The Champions League draw was the antithesis of that in soccer terms. But soccer nuts watched, tweeted and texted each other anyway, because it’s not weird for us to take time out of our day to watch a multilingual press conference.
The results of the press conference didn’t really even mean anything either. I know you could make the case that the draw does matter yada yada because you want to advance yada yada, but its only worth is for fans to finalize travel plans and time off work to be at the bar. Teams could just as easily lose at Benfica as at Barcelona, and at Borussia Dortmund and at Roma and at Bayer Leverkusen. The whole tournament is treachery, so why worry who’s in what group?
Take Liverpool as an example. The Reds aren’t in a death group by any stretch, but they could top it as easily as they could finish third. Manchester City were handed another difficult draw but they could win that group, too. Arsenal and Chelsea have as much a chance of advancing as they do bowing out early. There’s almost always a deserving team that doesn’t make the knockouts. Last year, City became the second team ever to score 10 points from six games and not qualify out of their group. It can happen to any team, any year. Group placement guarantees nothing but pins on a map and a two hour slot in your iCal.
So on Thursday I sat back, watched at work, texted, tweeted. I enjoyed being in on UEFA’s brilliant blue PowerPoint in the small country on the other side of the big world. The only thing we know now is when the best games are, and when we need to quit our jobs for a few hours so we can watch Lionel Messi play Zlatan Ibrahimovic. We’ll digitally teleport ourselves to another continent for that one too, and it won’t be unusual.
Grant Burkhardt is a regional Emmy-award winning television producer and Ohio University graduate (barely) who’s fallen head over boots for world football. You can chat soccer with him on social media, because he loves it, on Twitter and Google+.