For 25 years, the UEFA Champions League has been one of the most important sporting competitions held in the world. Held between all qualified participants from the various nations in Europe, this competition brings together a massive clash between teams from all across Europe. Several teams from the top leagues enter this successor to the old European Cup, which used only to feature the league winners of each national league in Europe.
For better or for worse, the format changed in 1992 when the Champions League was born. From 1992-93, the old European Cup is replaced by the Champions League and with that came incredible changes to the format of the competition, how it was marketed, the money involved and the TV rights. In the first season, eight teams eventually reached a league-style form, where the eight remaining teams participated in a single quarterfinal format that was beyond anything that had come before it.
That year, French champions Olympique de Marseille claimed the first Champions League, defeating AC Milan of Italy in the final and becoming both the first winners of the new system and the first French team to win ‘big ears’. While the chairman Bernard Tapie was accused of domestic match-fixing, and Marseille missed out the chance to defend their cup, a new format was born, and it was the changing of the guard for the European elite.
The first decade of the new format seen many winners – Ajax Amsterdam, Juventus, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich all lifted the cup in its early years.
The evolution of the tournament, though, has been rather vast. From having three qualifying rounds and a group phase with two groups, with two group winners meeting in the final, in the first season, a whole new format soon emerged.
The 1993-94 season saw the introduction of a new knockout for the semi-finals, removing the method that seen Marseille win the cup. By 1994, though, one knockout qualifying round was introduced with two group phases; in phase one, eight group winners and runners-up would move through to the second phase, where an eight-team knockout tournament began to decide the winner. 1997 seen two qualifying rounds, a group phase with six groups and the six group winners plus two runners-up making the quarterfinals.
It was also a landmark year for introducing more than one club per country, whereas in the past only one team entered unless the previous champions never won the domestic league they played within.
1999, though, seen the most significant change, with three new qualifying rounds to get to the groups, two group phases with eight winners and all runners-up moving through to a set of four groups, where all winners and runners-up made it to the quarterfinals. It was also the year where up to four clubs from any one country could participate in the Champions League.
2003 saw a single group phase introduced, with 8 group winners and eight runners-up heading into a last sixteen knockout stage, with up to four clubs per country. The most recent changes, in 2009, seen the tournament change to include a playoff round for the Champions League and its predecessor, the UEFA Cup/Europa League.
While some decry the changes as being anti-competitive and favourable to the top leagues, few can deny the unique spectacle of the Champions League and its famous music.