• No wonder Juventus, and their president Andrea Agnelli, want to leave nothing to chance in future.
• That Tottenham are in their first semi-final in 57 years should be applauded, welcomed, celebrated.
Ajax were last in the Champions League’s final four in 1997, Tottenham in its European Cup equivalent in 1962.
Yet marvellous surprises like this are why Juventus want to turn the greatest club competition in the world into a moribund closed shop. They’re terrified. Frightened that they’re not good enough and that money can’t always buy success.
The Juventus team eliminated by Ajax on Tuesday included Cristiano Ronaldo, the player acquired for £100m plus £12m in add-ons, specifically to deliver this trophy. That must be galling.
No wonder Juventus, and their president Andrea Agnelli, want to leave nothing to chance in future. No wonder in his brave new world in which the past trumps the present, clubs like Tottenham and Ajax may not be admitted at all. Ajax have a wonderful history but haven’t been among Europe’s elite for many decades now.
In 1997, having sold the majority of their Champions League-winning team, they lost their semi-final to Juventus, 6-2 on aggregate. One quarter-final appearance in 2003 aside, they haven’t been near since. Dutch football does not generate the money to mix with Europe’s super-elite these days and Ajax have to rely on the fruits of their youth policy. As Manchester United know, it is a strategy that will produce sporadically.
This is the first young Ajax team capable of thriving at this level in more than 20 years and the interim period has seen the club unable to get into the Champions League or much beyond its group stage.
If European football was reimagined the Juventus way – with guaranteed places for the wealthiest and biggest – there is no guarantee Ajax would be among the lucky few granted a permanent ticket. Tottenham, equally so. They might have one of the finest stadiums in Europe, but there will only be room for so many platinum club members in this proposed carve-up and, in England, they all play in red.
It is the blue teams – Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham – that Juventus fear, coming in, taking what is rightfully theirs.
Tottenham have even been omitted from some of the clandestine meetings of elite Premier League clubs. The last thing these self-appointed kings of Europe want is new blood.
It is why David Gill grafts so hard at UEFA to undermine Manchester City. They are all worried men. Worried that their own club isn’t good enough. Worried they have bought the wrong players, picked the wrong manager.
Worried that they aren’t smart enough to survive on their wits alone. That is the root of their lousy protectionism; not respect for tradition or financial fair play. Unsurprisingly, the clubs that have turned their domestic league into one-horse races were undone in Europe. Weeks without real competition turned them soft. Bayern Munich were dismal against Liverpool, in the last 16; Juventus, on the brink of an eighth straight title, could not handle a young, creative Ajax side.
Yet they want it all ways. They wish to make their leagues a cakewalk, without risking the inevitable consequences in Europe. They want to make the Champions League equally uncompetitive, with the same clubs returning to play the same fixtures, over and over until everything that is great about the competition is lost.
That Tottenham are in their first semi-final in 57 years should be applauded, welcomed, celebrated. That they did it by overcoming a Manchester City team with considerably greater resources should be a delight.
And while the established elite will no doubt relish City’s elimination, they won’t enjoy the emergence of Tottenham, or the resurgence of Ajax. These are their feeder clubs, the ones who make or nurture talent, for it to be picked off.
Ajax match-winner Matthijs de Ligt and his team-mate Frenkie De Jong are already on their way to Barcelona this summer. Real Madrid’s recent Champions League success was aided by two former Tottenham players: Luka Modric and Gareth Bale. In this new European order every club knows its place, and that place will be cast in stone.
The Champions League will not be for the likes of Leicester, no matter what they achieve domestically. And while we may see Juventus’ exit as a grand comeuppance, no doubt in a backroom somewhere, scared men are scheming to make sure it can never, ever, happen again.