The last few weeks have seen a sprinkling of World Cup qualifying in amongst league and UCL play. Now, the final round of UCL group stage football is over and once again, some heavy-weight clubs have played some big-time football. We once again witnessed the finest squads in Europe battle on what some would call the world' finest stage in the pursuit of ultimate glory.
These clubs are filled with the best players in the world who's names are on the vast majority of purchased jerseys - Ronaldo, Messi, Pogba, Aguero, Ibra, Ozil, and the list goes on and on.
But as much as the largest clubs garner the biggest fan bases, European soccer would not be what it is were it not for the smaller teams. For every one of the top 5 clubs in the top 5 leagues, we forget that there are literally 3 times as many mid and bottom table clubs.
Those clubs are the ones fighting tooth and nail to stay above relegation. Those national teams are the ones who can barely field enough pro players to compete, let alone qualify. And those teams are the ones who provide the physical framework for the big clubs to exist.
The dichotomy between the large and the small is too vast. It is only because of the total of both parts that the sum is so great.
The Big Club Mentality
You're reading a Real Madrid fan blog. All of us here therefore, are intimately familiar with the big club mentality because we live it. Our club is the greatest in the world (period), and our players play for some of the best national teams in the world.
This brings with it a natural feeling of superiority. If you are the best, how can you not feel like the best? Consequently, we tend to look down at the teams that are nowhere near our caliber. "Minnows" we call them, be they the newly promoted sides in La Liga, or the group stage competitors in the Champions League from the smallest countries in Europe. Are they even worth our time as we wrack up 5, 6, 7-0 score lines? How many times have we heard the argument that a player is only padding their stats when they score a hattrick against one of these teams?
The Unassuming Little Club
Then…there is the little guy. The team who's never made it out of Segunda B. The San Marino national team(last place in UEFA) . The perpetually mid-table side in Serie A.
What is often forgotten is just how many of these teams there are. They are the majority. Their relentless drive to stay afloat, their passion and moxy when they regularly go against so many clubs so much better than they and repeatedly get trounced. These are the teams that provide the meat of European soccer. These are the teams that test the mettle of the larger clubs each week.
Lest we remain arrogant and aloof as fans of the Royal Whites or a top-five national team, let us remember that without these teams there would be no league to play. Without them, where would so many of our young stars come from, or go on loan to grow? Where would La Liga, the most exciting and competitive league in the world, be without so many teams consistently vying for the middle of the table and a Europa League berth?
Even if we fail to remember these things, and the critical role even the smallest club plays, karma has a way of thwarting our arrogance.
Just ask Thomas Muller.
If you didn't catch the World Cup Qualifier between Germany and San Marino (and who really would) you missed an absolute 8-0 drubbing. After the match, Muller was quoted, with disdain in his tone, that "Matches like the one against San Marino have nothing to do with professional football. I do not understand the meaning of games such as these, more so with such a busy schedule.”
Even if you missed this drama, you must read San Marino's response from their Press Officer, Alan Gasperoni, in the form of a ten point rebuttal, that is absolutely brilliant.
Regardless, one little week later, fate would rebuke Thomas Muller as his Bayern Munich side was upset in the UCL by lowly Rostov 2-3.
Next it was lowly Legia that provided fireworks as they put 4 past Dortmund in a twelve goal thriller, and then went on to beat Sporting the week after.
Ludogorets then drew the mighty PSG, and these are just examples from the last two weeks of the Champions League.
Week in and week out the prospect of an upset looms. Every tournament there is always a chance.
In a system of sport, there is almost always a team better and always a team worse. Instead of disdain for those lesser, a proper appreciation for all elements that enable play is warranted. And besides, were it not for all the others, we wouldn’t have a pedestal on which to set our 12th Champions League Cup.