There is nothing like a dream to create the future. – Victor Hugo
I was flicking through the paper last night when I came across a table showing the pots for the Champions League draw;
Inter Milan; Barcelona; Manchester United; Chelsea; Arsenal; Bayern Munich; AC Milan; Lyon.
Werder Bremen; Real Madrid; Roma; Shakhtar Donetsk; Benfica; Valencia; Marseille; Panathinaikos.
Spartak Moscow; Tottenham Hotspur; Ajax; Schalke; Basle; Braga; Copenhagen.
Bursaspor; MSK Zilina; Hapoel Tel-Aviv; FC Twente; Rubin Kazan; Auxerre; Cluj; Partizan Belgrade
The groups were drawn thus;
Group A: Inter Milan, Werder Bremen, Tottenham, FC Twente.
Group B: Lyon, Benfica, Schalke, Hapoel Tel-Aviv.
Group C: Manchester United,Valencia, Rangers, Bursaspor.
Group D: Barcelona, Panathinaikos, FC Copenhagen, Rubin Kazan.
Group E: Bayern Munich, Roma, FC Basle, Cluj.
Group F: Chelsea, Marseille, Spartak Moscow, MSK Zilina.
Group G: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Ajax, Auxerre.
Group H: Arsenal, Shakhtar Donetsk, FC Braga, FK Partizan.
It occurred to me that some of those names look familiar. Ignoring our Premier League compatriots, Fulham has played four European teams through to the Champions League group stages, and knocked three of them out of last season’s Europa League. The fourth is Werder Bremen who came to Craven Cottage earlier this month and left, perhaps a little sheepishly, having suffered a 5-1 defeat.
You could argue that Werder Bremen played a weaker side because it was “only” a friendly. I’d have to disagree with you. I compared the team that played Fulham to the team that played Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga on 15th August;
V Fulham V Bayern Munich
Prodl Boesnich (73’ Tosic)
Bargfrede Marin (62’ Niemeyer)
Hunt ?zil (85’ Almeida)
They look quite similar, don’t they? Incidentally, the final score for the Bayern Munich game was 1-1. It wasn’t quite the embarrassment Bremen suffered down by the River Thames.
Looking at some of the other familiar names there, over the two legs we beat FC Basle 4-2 on aggregate and we beat Shakhtar Donetsk 3-2 on aggregate. Okay, so we lost on aggregate to Roma but in somewhat controversial circumstances and, anyway, we still went through and they didn’t.
I’m not suggesting that we should be in the Champions League. Obviously we shouldn’t as we finished in the bottom half of the league last season. But – and admittedly it’s a big but – what if we qualify in future? It’s not inconceivable that we could beat these teams again. Imagine we were Cluj, drawn in Group E. The Roma and Basle squads wouldn’t have changed substantially over the course of the summer and, arguably, ours has already strengthened with only a handful of signings (I’m rating Dembélé already – I’m very excited about him). Could the same feat be repeated?
Doesn’t hurt to dream, does it?