On Wednesday Night at the Santiago Bernabeu, Napoli and Real Madrid will face each other after 20 years. That remains Napoli’s sole visit to the historic stadium. One would normally expect a fixture, having had such limited encounters to really have a history. But this isn’t the case with the face off between these two teams.
The encounter on 16 September 1987 in the UEFA European cup was a historic one. For Starters, Diego Maradona was forced to play in front of an empty crowd due to violence by Real Madrid Ultras in the previous season. The match is also infamously remembered for being terribly bad tempered leading to manager calling a player “mafioso”.
But something much bigger happened that night that could change the course of the game forever. In attendance that night was AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi. Despite the high voltage encounter, he wasn’t impressed. He wasn’t happy seeing two of the best sides in the competition meet so early.
He believed that it was too early to lose one great team from the competition. It was like taking away from the tournament the more exciting final stages. It short, he felt the glamor from the competition was missing. He could not see the logic in why the most lucractive fixtures for televison coverage will take place so early in the competition.
He set motions for a European super league. While that did not happen, the foundation stone for the UEFA champions league was set. His idea directly led to the format we currently live in and the era dominated by the big clubs.
After his initial moves were rejected by the Real Madrid President Ramon Mendoza, Berlusconi created a commission comprising of Alex Fynn, then of Saatchi and Saatchi. A huge football fan himself, Fynn had already spoken about this idea in his talk about “’10-point blueprint for football’.
In 1991, the then 35 members voted in favour of the new ideas at an extraordinary UEFA Congress Conference. The proposals mainly led to the Quarter finals being replaced by the group stage with league system coming into European competition for the very first time. UEFA contacted the marketing agency T.E.A.M to sell the competition which would end up being named the UEFA champions league.
The new changes also saw a shake up in the broadcasting market of football. It saw massive finances being brought in the game through the television market not only in the European game, but also in the individual league as the premier league exhibits. The change made the game more commercial, richer and glamorous but also led to a tremendous increase in the disparity that exists between clubs.