In a strange twist of footballing fate it was the Premier League’s high-flying due that were booted unceremoniously out of the Champions League in midweek while the supposed London strugglers – Chelsea and Arsenal – made it through as group winners.
If you bet on the Champions League then you will have found mega rich City and last season’s finalists United among the favourites, so to see them drop out is a real game changer.
Manchester City were quick to play down the significance of their failure to finish ahead of Napoli and Bayern Munich. They stress that they are only just beginning and that the Premier League is the most important thing for them this season.
They are, of course, always going to say that and while it is true to an extent, with £500million spent, plus the very vocal and grand speeches of ambition about becoming the best and the biggest in the World, ever; to drop into the Europa League represents a failure on their part and their reaction represents a change in their stance as to the current position of the club.
The looming financial fair play rules may also become a bit harder to reach as the TV money would go a long way towards recovering the massive losses incurred thanks to Abu Dhabi’s generosity.
However, their elimination was perhaps overshadowed – much to their delight I suspect – by Manchester United’s failure in Switzerland.
The Red Devils have no excuses; they have played Champions League football for nearly 20 years and were given and infinitely easier group than City. But a failure to beat Benfica or Basel has cost them dear. The last time they went out at the group stages they finished bottom of the table and went out of Europe completely. Now they will have the hangover of the Europa League to stretch right into next year.
Patrice Evra said it was a ‘catastrophe’ to go out and ‘embarrassing’ to be in the Europa League, but the accountants may be using even stronger words. The estimated £20million lost from TV money and gate receipts courtesy of their early exit will make the £50million they pay in interest payments all the more harder to find. The club are used to the riches the Champions League provides and for the tap to suddenly run dry maybe a difficult adjustment to make.
You can bet on the Premier League taking on greater significance for the two clubs this season as they seek to massage those bruised egos that have come from these stinging eliminations.