There are many elements that can bring you success in sports. Talent, money, character; last week we remembered another element, one that is sometimes a bit forgotten: tradition.
That, more than anything, is the reason why Real Madrid has made it at least to the semifinals of the Champions League in each of the past seven seasons, and is on course to do it again. The lack of such tradition is the reason why Paris St. Germain, currently the richest club in the world, failed to get past the quarterfinal stage despite the fact their owners spent nearly 1.5 billion dollars since they took over seven years ago.
Tradition is also the reason why Juventus, after a 2-all home draw and trailing 1:0 at Wembley, was able to produce such a fast turnaround against a fantastic Tottenham team in the other big match of the week.
Real Madrid are going through a terrible season on the domestic front, which is practically over for them. They have no chance of catching up with Barcelona at the top, but they are also far enough from 5th-place Seville, meaning they are basically guaranteed a top four finish, which secures their place in the Champions League next season. They were also knocked out of the Copa del Rey in an embarrassing way, losing to lowly Leganes.
But it’s a different story when it comes to the Champions League. It feels as if whoever wears the white jersey feels the responsibility of playing in the most successful club in Europe, and acts accordingly.
For PSG, the story is almost completely the opposite. While they are cruising to the French championship and are through to the semifinals of the French Cup, their owners were hoping their big money would buy them instant European success, only to make an early exit time and time again.
They may justify it due to Neymar’s absence, or the difficult draws they always get. It is true, they faced Real Madrid this time, and three times were knocked out by Barcelona, but with so much money invested the owners expected more, only to learn that there is no such thing as instant success, you first sow the seeds, before you see some fruit.
While the Real Madrid – PSG clash was eventually one sided, the Juventus – Tottenham one went down to the wire, along with some great soccer from both teams.
For the past decade, as the Serie A was declining, Juventus kept the Italian pride in Europe, and during such an emotional week for Italian soccer, they just could not lose.
Just a few hours after that great win at Wembley, Juventus players attended Davide Astori’s funeral, the Fiorentina player who unexpectedly died last weekend. An emotional Giorgio Chiellini could not hold back his tears at the end of the match when he dedicated the win to Astori, whom he played with on the national team.
It is probably not surprising that during such a week, Juve are the only Italian team who won their European match. Milan lost at home to Arsenal and Lazio could not beat Dynamo Kiev, also at home; both matches in the Europa League. That is why Juventus is in a league of its own in Italy, that is the real meaning of tradition.
Tottenham are obviously disappointed, but they can be encouraged by their performance and also by the fact they are slowly building their own tradition, step by step. It was their second straight season in the Champions League and they are on course for a top four finish in the Premier League, which will send them to the group stage once again. Even more important is the fact they are able to keep the backbone of the squad together for years, along with manager Mauricio Pochettino. A big test for Tottenham will come over the summer, as there are constant rumors of a move by Harry Kane to Real Madrid, the same move Gareth Bale made five years ago. If they are able to keep their top scorer, the Spurs will send a clear message: they see themselves as a true contender.
While Tottenham did not go through, two other English teams did. Manchester City and Liverpool practically booked their spot in the quarterfinals in the first leg, with big wins on the road.
Despite a major investment, the Citizens have not yet had a big impact in the European competition, and this is only the second time they have made it past the Round of 16. Maybe now under Pep Guardiola they will finally make some noise.
Liverpool, on the other hand, are all about tradition. It’s been nearly 30 years since they last won the championship in England, but that did not stop them from European success. Liverpool won the Champions League title in that epic 2005 Final, seen by many as the best in history, beating Milan in penalties. They made it to the Final two years later, that time losing to Milan, and also made it all the way to the semifinal the following year. With that tradition, and the attacking minded game inspired by manager Jurgen Klopp, here is a team no one will be happy to face in the quarterfinals.