Impact of Foreign players in European leagues – Bundesliga

Football has become a truly global sport. With its worldwide reach, never as prominent as in this millennium,every major European league is able to attract hidden talents from different corner of the globe. This has markedly changed player demographics in the best leagues. Debojyoti Chakraborty brings to you a whole new series on these foreign imports. Sit back, relax, and let Goalden Times take you on an incredible trip. The third instalment of this series features Bundesliga.



The Fußball-Bundesliga, literally translated as Football Federal League and commonly known as the Bundesliga, is the top tier professional association football league in Germany.Famous for its knowledgeable and ardent football fans, the league boasts the highest average stadium attendance among all global football leagues. In fact, Bundesliga’s figure of 42,609 fans per game is second only to America’s NFLin global professional sport.It is a testimony to its popularity that Bundesliga is broadcast in over 200 countries. Currently ranked third in Europe according to UEFA’s league coefficient ranking, and certainly on the ascendency, Bundesliga is one of the top most leagues in the World. Unlike other top European Leagues – all covered in this series –Bundesliga features only 18 teams instead of the common norm of 20 teams. Rest of the structure is in sync with others though – the league runs from August to May, matches are mostly played over the weekends making it more practical for fans to travel and watch the games and the bottom three teams get relegated to the lower division known as Bundesliga 2 from where three teams get promoted each year. The domestic cup competition DFB-Pokal is keenly contested and the winner locks horn with the Bundesliga winner in the DFL-Super cup, the season opener.

Bundesliga tops the chart in average attendance for 2013-14 (Source:
Bundesliga tops the chart in average attendance for 2013-14 (Source:

Bundesliga started in 1963-64 and since then a total of 53 clubs have competed for the title. FC Bayern Munich is the most decorated and successful club in the league’s history, having won the Bundesliga 23 times. Other prominent clubs are Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger SV, Werder Bremen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfB Stuttgart.
Bundesliga clubs need to be majority-owned by German club members – with the exception of few clubs which were originally founded as factory teams – to discourage control by a single entity, and operate under tight restrictions on the use of debt for acquisitions. This has resulted in a self-sustaining revenue generation model where 11 out of 18 Bundesliga clubs have reported in green last season. This is a marked difference viz-a-viz the buy me trophies approach of other major European leagues, a trend that has seen several high profile teams coming under ownership of business tycoons and Arab sheiks, and a larger number of clubs having high levels of debt.
Good showing by German clubs over a sustained period in Europe has pushed them above Serie A in European Coefficients,allowing the fourth placed team from Germany an entry to the UEFA Champions League since 2011. However what is striking is the fact that Bundesliga has not really dominated the rest of Europe in this period. Before Bayern Munich won the Champions League in 2012 beating Borussia Dortmund in an all-German final, the last team to win the same was Bayern themselves way back in 2000-01. Last German club to win the Europa League, Europe’s second tier continental tournament, was FC Schalke 04 when they won it almost two decades back in 1996-97. It is rather the collective good showing of the Bundesliga clubs that has paved the way for more German clubs’ participation in the Champions League.
Here is another interesting piece of statistic – below we see a comparison between FIFA ranking of the top European nations and their respective domestic league’s rankings. La Liga still dominates Europe but Spain has gone off the radar in recent years which is reflected in the difference in the rankings of club and country. Germany, on the other hand, has the lowest ranking difference and that too with the best average ranking – indicative of their dominance at both Club and country level. Interestingly, only Netherlands and Belgium alongside Germany have a better national team ranking than their league ranking – no wonder these three national teams are also among the most exciting teams currently in world football.
So, let us try to find out why the top Bundesliga teams have fared so well over the last few seasons under their robust financial regulations and demonstrated a new brand of footballing philosophy for others to follow. Our sample size is five—the top five clubs since the 2009–10 season.

 Borussia Mönchengladbach

First up is Borussia Mönchengladbach, Die Borussen – The club from North Rhine-Westphalia, one of Germany’s best-known, best-supported, and most successful clubs. 1970’s was their golden decade when they won five Bundesliga titles, including a hat trick of crowns between 1975 and 1977. They encountered a dip in performance soon after owing to a financial crisis, with the ultimate low coming in the form of relegation from Bundesliga in 2006-07. But since then Mönchengladbach have been on the up – Bundesliga 2 glory and promotion to the top tier in 2007-08 has paved the way for steady success in years to come. In the last five years, they have steadily moved up the league table and now are seen as a strong contender for the Champions League play-off spot. Although they have had limited exposure to continental football – their only appearance was cut short in the Champions League qualifying match in 2012-13 – it is fair to say that they have never really longed for it. That presents a very sound picture of this club’s goal – focus on the job at hand and do not burden yourself by being overambitious.Based on lessons from their past, Borussia Mönchengladbach is run on very strict financial grounds. Their first team squad size hovers around a very acceptable figure of mid 20’s and if anything, the trend is downwards. But even then, they have an eye for class. Their foreign player ratio is in the region of 40-50% and usually they have done more than just add up the numbers. Brazilian Raffael Caetano de Araújo was the club’stop scorer in the league in 2013/14. So was Dutch Luuk de Jong (jointly) in 2012/13, a season when Venezuelan Juan Arango became the top assist provider for the club, a feat he has achieved for two consecutive seasons. So not only have Mönchengladbach been able to find quality foreign players to augment their local talent, they have also been able to find them from different parts of the globe. It has paid healthy dividends so far, but to take the next step – challenge for the title or domestic cups – they might need to break the bank and sign some marquee players in the near future. They have been raided and have lost crucial players in recent past–Marko Marin in 2009-10, Marco Reus and Dante in 2012-13, Marc-André ter Stegen last summer. They can ill afford to continue this trend if they have any higher ambitions.


FC Schalke 04

Fußball club Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04 e. V., better known as FC Schalke 04 is originally from the Schalke district of Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia and is one of the most popular teams in Germany.Die Königsblauen dominated German football for close to a decade starting from the mid 1930’s. However they had to face the stigma of Bundesliga scandal of 1971 where charges of accepting bribes to forfeit matches were proved against their key players and officials. They have, however, shown signs of improvement in the new millennium and have reached the semis of both Europa League as well as Champions League in last five years. Besides managing European expectations, FC Schalke 04 have also lifted the prestigious DFB Pokal in 2010-11. But their league performance suffered that season as they finished a lowly 14th in the table. Apart from that, Schalke have been steadily featuring in the top four in Bundesliga, rarely threatening to win it though.Their clear transfer policies have played a huge part behind their success. Schalke have always brought in quality foreign players – Dutch Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Spaniard José Manuel Jurado (both in 2010-11), Ghanaian Kevin-Prince Boateng (in 2013-14) – to augment their local talents, even if they have had to break the bank for such transfers. FC Schalke 04 have stood strong on their own terms and except for selling Manuel Neuer to Bayern Munich in 2011-12, they have never sold any of their prized assets to rival clubs. Schalke have adopted another interesting approach – over the years, they have drastically reduced both their first team squad strength and the number of foreign players in the squad. Partly, this has to do with the availability of an excellent talent pool in Germany; and partly because of FC Schalke 04’s endeavour to run a financially viable system, a system that has led them to have a valuation of $598.5 million and be on the 12th spot in the list (by Forbes) of richest football clubs The valuation marks a 16% increase from the previous year’s value.So, they have gone big when they were actually certain of their acquisitions but have mostly stayed away from average buys.While the club has done really well in terms of financial stability there is still a lot of work to be done with regards to team building, especially when it comes to facing Europe’s elite teams like Real Madrid who handed them a 9-2 thrashing in the UEFA Champions League last season.


 Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Bayer 04 Leverkusen, known as Leverkusen or simply Bayer, is another prestigious club from Germany, based in Leverkusen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Often mocked as Neverkusen for their failure to win any major trophy – they missed out on Bundesliga title narrowly four times between 1996-97 and 2001-02 – Bayer Leverkusen came into prominence as late as the 1990’s. 2001-02 was a memorable, yet painful year for them as they finished second in everything they competed for – the league, the domestic cup as well as the UEFA Champions League. In the process, Leverkusen became – and remain the only club till date to appear in the final of a UEFA Champions league without ever winning a domestic league title.With consistent qualification to the UEFA Champions League, Bayer Leverkusen have been really consistent in the last few years. However their failure to climb up the ladder can be termed as stagnancy as well. A squad, dominated by domestic players (~ 60%),  whose average age hovers around the mid 20’s, to finish 3rd-4th on the league table – one can predict their season at the start of it and chances are, it will be right on the money. Their lack of squad depth has been heavily exposed in the Champions League – they were humiliated by Barcelona 7-1 away from home in 2011-12 and by Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 at home last season. And although these thrashings did not prevent Leverkusen from negotiating the group stages, they did not progress much beyond either. And it seems, the board is least bothered about that. Arturo Vidal of Chile in 2011-12, German André Schürrle and Spaniard Daniel Carvajal in 2013-14, and another German Emre Can in 2014-15 – these are some of the high profile names to depart from the club in recent history. Rarely have Bayer Leverkusen been able to sustain their core group and their new signing this season – Turkish attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu also is rumored to leave in the summer (possibly to Barcelona). This is precisely the reason why even after being a financially stable club, Bayer Leverkusen unfortunately has been loathed as a “plastic club”.A late achiever in the German football scene, Leverkusen suffer from a traditional or committed fan base and is perceived to be run solely on the backing of their rich pharmaceutical company sponsor.


 Borussia Dortmund

Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund, better known as Borussia Dortmund, Dortmund, or BVB, is a German sports club based in Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia. The football team is part of a 115,000 member strong sports club, making Dortmund the third largest sports club by membership in Germany. Dortmund has a rich footballing history but their tryst with football glory only came late in the last millennium. When everything looked set for a brighter future, Dortmund shocked the German football system by reporting a huge debt of €118.8 million in 2004. It was then revealed thatDie Borussen had gone beyond their limits in search of silverwares. They had invested heavily to recruit foreign players but failure to advance to the main stages of the 2003-04 UEFA Champions League meant that the club had to withstand huge financial losses. Loans from rival clubs like Bayern Munich, sale of stadium naming rights, getting almost bankrupt – Dortmund have seen it all and fortunately, come out stronger and wiser. One of the forces behind their turn around was their loyal fans – Borussia Dortmund recorded an average of 80,297 fans for all the home matches in the 2013-14 season, the highest in Europe. Also, the club shifted its focus to young home-grown players. In the last five years, the presence of local players in Dortmund’s squad has gone up from 52% to 61.54%. At the same time, the squad strength has remained practically constant – 25, 23, 23, 23 and 26. The quality of these players and the results are there for everyone to see – consistent top two finishes in the league with couple of titles, one cup (DFB-Pokal) crown with another final appearance, and a UEFA Champions League final after 17 years. Borussia Dortmund are certainly on the right track.Though local talent has had a huge role to play in their revival,  it is not that Dortmund had turned a blind eye towards foreign players.In last couple of years they have broken the bank to bring in quality players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan(Armenia), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Socratis Papasthopoulos(Greece), Kevin Kampl (Slovenia), Adrián Ramos (Colombia), Shinji Kagawa (Japan), Ciro Immobile (Italy) to build up a team as diverse as one can imagine. But they have all augmented an already strong squad. In our analysis period (last five seasons), thrice the top goal scorer and four times the top assist provider has been a German. True, they are having a miserable season this time round but that has been already dealt in detail here.


FC Bayern Munich

Fußball-Club Bayern Münchene.V., globally famous as FC Bayern München, FCB,Bayern Munich, or FC Bayern, is the most successful German football club. Based in Munich, Bavaria, Bayern havewon a record 24 national titles, 17 national cups and also five (a German record) UEFA Champions League crowns. On top of that, Bayern are an exemplary club in professional football having reported profits in nine of the last ten seasons. More often than not, they have topped their previous year’s record earnings. This is achieved in spite of the fact that Bayern earn only 22% of their revenues through broadcasting rights (for other big clubs, this figure is as high as 35%) under the supervision of Deutsche Fußball Liga. One of the strong fundamentals behind Bayern Munich’s amazing financing is that they always use their current assets, not loans, to fund recruitment of players. And that too when each year they have had big ticket signings for the last five seasons. Except for the 2014-15 season they have had huge transfer spending. But even if Bayern have spent big, they have spent wise too. And this has paid handsome dividends – three Bundesliga, three DFB-Pokal and one Champions League titles. Bayern’s showing in the continental front was spectacular to say the least – they featured in two more finals and one more semifinal between 2009-10 till date. Only season they made a premature exit was in  2010-11, and that too on the basis of away goals.  Their standards have been so high that their lowly third finish was called a “blip”. Other than that success and Bayern have been pronounced in the same breath. Like any big club, Bayern have huge expectations to fulfill in each transfer window and they have not disappointed their fans and stakeholders with quality signings like Mario Gómez, Arjen Robben, Luiz Gustavo, Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Javi Martínez, Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Götze, Thiago Alcántara, Mehdi Benatia, Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski. The list features four Germans, one Dutch, two Brazilians, two Spaniards, one Croat, one Swiss, one Moroccan and one Polish player – and all of them flourished in the German giant’s first XI during the last five seasons. And it is not always that Bayern have gone after the flavor of the season – some of their most notable recruits had been perceived as past their prime (Alonso), failures (Robben) or yet unproven (Alcántara) in other big leagues. Stability is what they thrive on and that is evident from their foreign player recruitment policy also. Bayern have maintained a stable 50% participation of domestic players in their first team squad. This figure is actually quite low compared to its closest rivals but one can’t really complain when the results have been so spectacular.



Bundesliga is well known for running a profitable business model.Among Europe’s five major leagues, they have the highest average attendance, lowest ticket prices, and lowest pay out (less than 50%) on footballers’ wages. That allowed the German clubs to collectively book profit even during the peak of recession time during the 2009–10 season.
Much before the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations came into picture in September 2009, Bundesliga was running a self-imposed strictly regulated financial model. Every club has to pass through the scrutiny process of the German Football Federation (DFB) at the beginning of each season where their transfer documents and accounts are inspected before they are granted the approval for participation in the league that season. The DFB have a system of fines and points deductions for clubs who flout rules and those who go into the red can only buy a player after selling one for at least the same amount.
Surely Bundesliga is not as popular as, say, the English Premier League worldwide – English Premier League enjoys higher revenue growth thanks to a larger global fanbase and skyrocketing television income (as the English have a less competitive pay-TV market).But then the English clubs do spend an absurd amount of their income on players’wages. Bundesliga clubs, instead,generally enter into partnership with local firms, several of whom eventually go on to become big global companies. That is why Bayern Munich received 55% of its income from company sponsorship deals, while their English counterpart, Manchester United received a mere 37%.
The inflection point in recent German football evolution came in 2000 – the year that saw them crashing out of European Championships at the group stages with one draw and two defeats.To address the dearth of talent at a national level, the German Football Association and the Bundesliga instructed all the clubs to run a youth academy to boost the stream of local talent. A decade later, the top tiers of German football was seen spending an average of €75m annually on these youth academies – training 5,000 players in the age group of 12–18, increasing the under-23-year-olds in the Bundesliga from 6% to 15% in a 10-year span. This is money well spent – nurturing home grown talent instead of splashing out cash on (sometimes average) foreign players and falling in the spiral of billions of debt.


With everyone going gaga over the success of German national team and clubs, it is widely accepted that Bundesliga is ruled by the German players. Well, time for the myth to be busted. As shown above, Bayern Munich, leader of the pack, has a pretty high share of foreign players in its first team squad. That high number has also practically remained constant throughout the recent years (low fluctuation, Std. Deviation). But there is another facet to these high numbers – they are well augmented by their German counterparts. That is why almost every top club is less dependent on their foreign imports for their season’s outcome (low correlation between no of Foreign players in the squad and eventual final standing), at least for the clubs at the top of the table. As we move lower down the table, and as the local talent pool is closer to exhaustion, clubs become more and more dependent on foreign signings. And quality recruitment in Bundesliga has not been an issue thanks to its strong financial base. Only aberration in the above figures is FC Schalke 04 (correlation of -55.71%), but that is mainly due to the 2010-11 season when their league campaign was hampered (or strategically sacrificed) by deep cup runs – they eventually managed to win the DFB-Pokal and reached the last four of Champions League. If we ignore that season, their correlation value comes out to be 13.95%, perfectly in line with our analysis.

That was it for the superpowers of Bundesliga. Watch this space for more in our next instalment.

Scouting Network – Julian Draxler

Goalden Times brings you the stars of tomorrow – 20 years or under, promising players from across the world


Full Name: Julian Draxler

Date of Birth: September 20, 1993

Height: 1.87m

Position: Left-wing midfielder

Nationality: German

Club: FC Schalke 04

Market Value: £12.5 m


Julian Draxler became the fourth youngest player ever to play in the Bundesliga when he came on as a substitute for Schalke 04 in their 1-0 home defeat to Hamburg on January 15, 2011 as 17 years, 3 months, 27 days old. He has been with Die Knappen since 2001-02 and his smooth rise to the top continued when he was given a start a week later, becoming the second youngest player ever – behind Nuri Sahin – to feature in the first XI in a Bundesliga match. A few days later, on January 25, he scored his first goal for the club, coming on as a super-sub in a DFB-Pokal match against FC Nüremberg in the dying seconds of extra time to snatch a win. He also scored the opener in the finals and his strong showing earned him a call for the U-21 national team. Draxler celebrated his debut with a goal against Cyprus on August 9, 2011 in the 2013 UEFA European U-21 Football Championship. Barely a year later, on May 26, 2012, he made his senior team debut, coming on from the bench in a 5-3 loss to Switzerland.

Draxler has made a meteoric rise to the top having been a regular starter for Schalke at a tender age of 17. Greater things seem to be on his way as the youngster has finished his academic commitments and can now fully concentrate on the football pitch. His dribbling skills down the left flank have mesmerised the defenders and he would look to polish his raw skills even further this season. Draxler’s pace along with positional sense and tactical know-how has been his biggest assets and is surprising to see this level of maturity at such a tender age. His performance against Mönchengladbach last year was awe-inspiring and he has only gone on to improve further. He has played in a more central role this season and it has paid dividends as he has equalled his last season’s goal tally (of five) already. It will not be long before this wonder kid makes a name for himself in the national squad also by replacing some of his more illustrious countrymen.

UEFA Champions League 2012-13: Group Stage Preview

As the excitement and drama returns with the biggest club tournament in football, Debojyoti Chakraborty goes through the groups to see how the teams are shaping up for the contest this year


The Prelude

Barely had the transfer window closed and we had the group stage draw for the UEFA Champions League 2012-13 in Monaco on August 31. It is typically an event which prompts club representatives to take out a pen and a piece of paper, desperate to keep track of who-is-drawing-whom, quite oblivious of the fact that the internet will be flooded with them very shortly. Such is the adrenaline rush for this mega event – hailed as the greatest honour in world football – permutations and combinations dominate to predict which team will be pitted against whom. Like each year, teams were slotted in four pots according to their UEFA coefficients – a ranking system which takes into account the club’s historical and most recent performances in the tournament – with the top eight teams in Pot One and the bottom eight in Pot Four. The ranking system is somewhat dubious as except for one team, all others in Pot Four are domestic league winners. For the first time a team finishing as low as sixth in its domestic league featured in the draw as it was the automatic choice – reigning champions, Chelsea. It was already known that teams in the same pot or from the same country cannot be drawn against each other. But that did not prevent us from having some great matches in the group stage.

Pot 1

Pot 2

Pot 3

Pot 4

FC Barcelona

Valencia CF

Olympiacos FC

Celtic FC

Manchester United FC

SL Benfica

AFC Ajax

Borussia Dortmund

Chelsea FC

FC Shakhtar Donetsk

RSC Anderlecht

FC BATE Borisov

FC Bayern Munich

FC Zenit St. Petersburg


GNK Dinamo Zagreb

Real Madrid CF

FC Schalke 04

FC Spartak Moscow

CFR 1907 Cluj

Arsenal FC

Manchester City FC

Paris Saint-Germain FC

Montpellier Hérault SC

FC Porto

SC Braga

LOSC Lille

Malaga CF

AC Milan

Dynamo Kyiv

Galatasaray S.K.

FC Nordsjaelland

Group A

FC Porto                 Dynamo Kyiv         Paris Saint-Germain             GNK Dinamo Zagreb

FC Porto:

FC Porto, the Portuguese champions have done remarkably well in the recent editions of this tournament and Vitor Pereira should be happy to be in a group which looks easy on paper. Being in Pot One helped but they have earned it through strong performances in Estádio do Dragão and away. Even after the departure of Hulk, with João Moutinho in form, this side would cause some problems to their more accomplished opponents in the later stages of Champions League.

Dynamo Kyiv:

After the heartbreak in the qualifying rounds last season, Dynamo Kyiv, runners-up in the Ukranian Premier League, are back in the Champions League following two consecutive gruelling qualifying ties. Manager Yuri Semin would be looking at the brighter side thinking his troops are already prepared for the biggest stage of them all. Following the retirement of Ukraine’s greatest ever player Andriy Shevchenko, there is no such ‘star’ in the team and their hopes will rely heavily on their performances at home in Olimpiyskyi National Sports Complex.

Paris Saint-Germain:

The big spending French club failed to win the Ligue 1 last season but still they enter the Champions League stage as one of the hot favourites. Carlo Ancelotti knows he has to bring some honour to Parc des Princes in his second season in charge. And there is no reason why he cannot achieve that with the backing of oil-rich Qatar Sport Investment group. Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura, Marco Verratti, Ezequiel Lavezzi – there is too much talent everywhere and it only needs to be directed through the right channel.

GNK Dinamo Zagreb:

They are the Croat champions but they bowed out of the Champions League last season finishing bottom of their group. Ante Čačić had a dreadful debut season, but he might just get second-time-lucky as the manager of this hardworking team. Watch out for Duje Čop, who has a thunderbolt but is criticized often for overusing that. He has already showed his knack of goal-scoring in the three qualifying ties. Their other weapon would be Stadion Maksimir which is nothing short of a fortress for them.

Group B

Arsenal FC            FC Schalke 04       Olympiacos FC      Montpellier Hérault SC


Arsenal FC:

Lost 3-4 on aggregate to AC Milan in the ‘Round of 16’ last season. They have qualified for this year’s edition by securing the third and last automatic place from English Premier League. Arsene Wenger, in his 17th season in the club, has a challenge to prove that the Gunners are not a mere feeder club to the best clubs in world football. Any club will find it difficult to cope with the departure of one of the best strikers in the world – Robin van Persie. But with fresh arrivals in the form of Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, there is new hope in the Emirates Stadium.

FC Schalke 04:

Huub Stevens guided Schalke 04 to third place in the Bundesliga en route to automatic qualification for Champions League after a hiatus of two years. The buoyant supporters from Veltins-Arena will pin their hopes on their star striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who was prolific last season with a tally of 48 goals in all competitions. Besides, they have some young and home-grown players who are ready to take centre stage.

Olympiacos FC:

Champions of Greek Super League could not progress to the knock-out stages last season and they will have to pull up their socks if they are to do any better this time round. Manager Leonardo Jardim is in his debut season but quite a few in the squad will know a thing or two about the Gunners after hosting them in 2009 and 2011 campaign at Karaiskakis Stadium. Departure of frontman Kevin Mirallas, who netted 20 goals in the league, to Everton will be a major blow and it remains to be seen how well the Greek army cope with this challenge.

Montpellier Hérault SC:

Montpellier won their first ever league title last season and they are now ready to debut in this season’s Champions League. René Girard and his troop have shown a rare consistency to overpower their mighty domestic opponents and the same ruthlessness will be required if they want to progress in this year’s competition. But with the departure of their main goal-scorer, Olivier Giroud and their lack of squad depth likely to be exposed during the course of the campaign, Stade de la Mosson may not get much action in its debut season in Europe.

Group C

AC Milan                FC Zenit St. Petersburg             RSC Anderlecht                 Malaga CF

AC Milan:

Lost 1-3 in aggregate to Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season. Qualified for this season being runners-up in Serie A. Manager Massimiliano Allegri is in his third season at San Siro. It is time to rebuild for the Rossoneri. Their long serving soldiers have either retired (Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf) or have been shown the door (Andrea Pirlo, Filippo Inzaghi); their talismanic star players (Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva) have been lured away from the Red and Black. Milan has a young team and their hopes will rely heavily on the new face, Giampaolo Pazzini. Still, being in a relatively easy group should help them.

FC Zenit St. Petersburg:

The Russian champions reached the knock-out stages of the competition last term and they would like to emulate that feat this year. Manager Luciano Spalletti should fancy his chances from this group especially if his side can take full advantage of the home matches in the Petrovsky Stadium. Andrei Arshavin, who was on loan from Arsenal, will be missed big time. Much of the burden will be on the shoulders of Hulk, the marquee signing of the season who is a proven goal-scorer at the continental stage.

RSC Anderlecht:

The Belgian Champions are coming into the competition through play-off after a year’s absence. It will be an acid test for their new man in charge, John van den Brom. They will play in Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. It is a team full of unknown names and faces. But this is the stage where jewels have been discovered in the past.

Malaga CF:

The great Malaga story reached its pinnacle as it qualified for the Champions’ League by finishing fourth in the La Liga and came through the qualifying rounds. Or is it only the start from La Rosaleda for Manuel Pellegrini and his boys? Only time will tell, but there is no denying that this Spanish side will not let it go so easily. Their financial problem meant a series of summer exits which has created a dearth in squad depth and that might turn out to be a bit of a downer for them.

Group D

Real Madrid CF           Manchester City   FC            AFC Ajax            Borussia Dortmund

Real Madrid CF:

The most successful club in the history of the competition were eliminated from the semi-final last season but they did win the La Liga quite comfortably. José Mourinho has found his feet at the Santiago Bernabéu. Anything less than a trophy is considered a failure and this is one trophy which they have not won since 2002. So teams beware! Watch out for Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria, Iker Casillas, Sami Khedira, Luka Modric, Karim Benzama, Gonzalo Higuain and Co.

Manchester City FC:

It was nothing short of a horror show for the big spending English champions to finish third in the group stage last season. The City of Manchester faithful will not be as patient as Roberto Mancini if they fail to make much wanted progress this term. This should not be too difficult with the talent and depth Manchester City have, even though they did not bolster their squad in the summer transfer window. Only thing is that they have been drawn against three other major European Champions and this could be another reality check for them.

AFC Ajax:

Bowed out of the competition in the group stages last year but claimed the Dutch Eredivisie. Manager Frank de Boer will expect a better outing in his third season in charge at Amsterdam Arena. It will be interesting to see how much Christian Eriksen can inspire Ajax to progress beyond the Group of Death. He does not seem to have much support apart from an ageing Christian Poulsen and some young lesser known players.

Borussia Dortmund:

Borussia Dortmund had a contrasting season last time – while they won the German Bundesliga they got the wooden spoon in the Champions League. With some of the finest young talents – Marco Reus, Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski – at his disposal, Jürgen Klopp would be disappointed if he cannot march his team to the knock-out stages. At least the Westfalenstadion faithful will not accept another failure at the world stage.

Group E

Chelsea FC             FC Shakhtar Donetsk           Juventus                FC Nordsjaelland

Chelsea FC:

Current champions. They had to win it to qualify for the Champions League as they failed to finish in the top four in English Premier League. Roberto Di Matteo won it as a care-taker manager and got the job on a permanent basis. That is history now. Following the summer exodus – Didier Drogba, Jose Bosingwa, Solomon Kalou – and induction of fresh blood – Eden Hazard, Victor Moses, Oscar, Marko Marin – Chelsea look a completely new side, and a refreshing one at that.  The trophy has found a home at Stamford Bridge and The Blues will be on a mission to retain it.

FC Shakhtar Donetsk:

The Ukrainian champions did not create much of an impression last season as they finished rock bottom in the group. This was unexpected as they reached the last eight in the 2010-11 season only to be eliminated by the eventual winners, Barcelona. But Mircea Lucescu has been in charge at Donbass Arena for close to a decade and he knows how to plug the holes. The job is not easy though and a progress to the next round may just prove his biggest ever achievement.


Leaving their match-fixing scandals behind, the Turin club was crowned the Serie A champions last season. But their manager, Antonio Conte is still suffering from the scar as he is to sit out of the entire campaign and assistant coach Massimo Carrera will take charge for the Champions League matches. This is not an ideal set up, but like the Azzuri adversity might just prove to be an inspiration for the club from Juventus Stadium. With the experience of Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo at hand – especially the latter operating at the fulcrum of an intriguing 3-5-2 system – should see them through to the knock-out stages and beyond.

FC Nordsjaelland:

The Danish champions are making their debut this season. Known as a club dedicated to youth development, 2011-12 was a milestone season for them as they won the domestic title for the first time. Only Andreas Laudrup may draw some attention due to his more illustrious father, the legendary Dane, Michael Laudrup. Kasper Hjulmand has rightly set his sight to embrace the moment and not to overburden his young side with unrealistic expectations. It will be a huge occasion for some 10,000 odd spectators at Farum Park and they should enjoy the moment without thinking too much ahead.

Group F

FC Bayern Munich               Valencia CF            LOSC Lille              FC BATE Borisov

FC Bayern Munich:

Last year’s runners-up (runners-up in the German Bundesliga too) have bolstered their squad with some marquee signings – Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Mandžukić and Javi Martinez. The latter will be expected to set the stage on fire, with his calibre and more so for his $50 million transfer price tag. Jupp Heynckes is back in charge for his third spell at Allianz Arena and he would have set his sight on making three finals in four years.

Valencia CF:

Valencia qualifies for the tournament finishing third in La Liga. With a new manager, Mauricio Pellegrino at the helm in Mestalla, they will look to do better than last year’s group stage exit. The club have seen a busy summer where star players, like Jordi Alba, have left but they have also ensured that there is no dearth of talent with the inclusion of Sergio Canales, Fernando Gago and Nelson Valdez. Canales, in particular, could be a star in the making if he can shed aside his injury woes and that will do no harm to Valencia’s chances.

LOSC Lille:

Another team to finish rock bottom in the group stages last year, Lille had to see off the rigours of qualifying rounds after finishing third in Ligue 1. With the departure of key player Eden Hazard life will not be easy for Rudi Garcia. Fans in the newly opened Grand Stade Lille Métropole and away will hope this will not deter their hopes. Just for football fans, Lille should progress through to the knock-out stages with their Barcelona-esque style of play where players roam around to create open spaces and finish opposition off with breathtaking passing.

FC BATE Borisov:

They finished fourth in the group last season and their manager Viktor Goncharenko would like to have a better outing this time round. They were crowned with the league title in Belarus and are ready to go with three back-to-back  wins en route to the final stage of Champions League. Their City Stadium faithful will be looking up to their own child, Alexander Hleb for inspiration but progressing to the next stage will be a tough ask.

Group G

FC Barcelona             SL Benfica               FC Spartak Moscow               Celtic FC 


FC Barcelona:

Back in the competition after a disastrous season by their own standards – crashed out of Champions League after losing to Chelsea on 2-3 aggregate and came second best in La Liga. Tito Villanova would like to continue the tradition of tiki-taka with a more or less settled team. If they had any weak points, they have addressed that with the signing of left-back Jordi Alba. Watch out for another great goal feast ahead, at least in Camp Nou.


SL Benfica:

Although they came second in the domestic league, Benfica topped the group last time which had Manchester United. Their progress was stalled by eventual winners Chelsea in the last eight but Jorge Jesus, their manager would be proud of their achievements. Benfica play their home matches in Estádio da Luz and are known to be the club with most number of supporters worldwide. Nicolás Gaitan impressed one and all last season and it would be him and a bunch of young, lesser known but highly skilful players who would like to carry their good form ahead.

FC Spartak Moscow:

Spartak Moscow finished second in the Russian Premier League and were drawn against the Turkey runners-up Fenerbahçe in the qualifying round. They earned a hard-fought 3-2 win on aggregate to announce their return to the biggest club tournament in the world. Home matches in the freezing conditions of Luzhniki Stadium would be a big plus to Unai Emery and his team. They need to take full advantage of that if they wish to have any hopes of progressing through to the next round.

Celtic FC:

The Scottish champions appear in the final stages of Champions League after a gap of four years through qualifying round. Neil Lennon will know his side will fight hard for each and every ball but he must be realistic about his team’s chances of progressing through to the knock-out stages. The Bhoys cannot afford to let their guard down at Celtic Park if they hope to salvage anything out of this campaign.

Group H

Manchester United FC           SC Braga              Galatasaray S.K.          CFR 1907 Cluj

Manchester United FC:

After a disastrous season where the Red Devils failed to progress to the knock-out stages of Champions League and lost the English Premier League to their city rivals, Sir Alex Ferguson looks to reshuffle his squad with the addition of star striker Robin van Persie and playmaker Shinji Kagawa. Old Trafford is buzzing with renewed hopes with the addition of RVP in particular, who netted 37 goals last season in all competitions. This should be a stroll in the park for them but easy groups do not always guarantee result as the gaffer would second.

SC Braga:

Coming to the competition after sealing a third spot in the Portuguese Superliga and then defeating Udinese in the play-offs, manager José Peseiro would like to mark his debut season with a notable performance. They do not have any big names to boast of, but their attacking flair would surely catch the eye. Expect some gripping performances, at least on their home turf in Estádio Municipal.

Galatasaray S.K.:

The Turkish champions are back in contention after last year’s absence. Fatih Terim should be positive about his team’s chances being drawn in an easy group. They have some real good players in Hamit Altintop, Felipe Melo, Emmanuel Eboué and Johan Elmander. It seems their home matches in Turk Telecom Arena will play a big role in their progress to the knock-out stages.

CFR 1907 Cluj:

The Romanian champions made it to the Champions league final stages through two play-off tie wins after a gap of two years. This is a relatively unknown club, who play their home matches in Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu, are full of young enthusiastic players without any big name and the man in charge, Ioan Andone is also in his first season at the club. But sometimes no expectation serves as a major booster for a team to play to their fullest potential under a relaxed environment.

Parting Shot

The power shift in Europe is quite eminent. While three clubs from EPL – barring Manchester City – featured in Pot One, La Liga’s dominance is largely concentrated in Real Madrid and Barcelona. Italy has only two representatives in the finals which is an indication of their domestic turmoil. Two contrasting features dictate the rise of two other nations – France and Portugal. While the former has spent massively to lure the best talents across the globe, the latter has put together some strong performances over the years to climb the ladder. There are 17 nations participating in this year’s edition – no one knows who will emerge victorious, come May in London. To know about all that and much more: Follow Football, Follow us!