Benitez: Returning to England
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The days when a group of be-joweled old men in suits would pull balls from a couple of silk bags are gone. Nowadays, we have the Champions League Group Stage draw, an event that clearly fancies itself as a cross between a Euromillions Lottery draw and a stagey awards ceremony. Pedro Pinto and the delectable Melanie Winiger presided over nearly an hour of razzmattazz and the type of viewing discomfort usually brought on when English is spoken as a second language.
Fans of Tottenham Hotspur, still celebrating after ending nearly 50 years in the wilderness, deserve sympathy for the edge of tension supplied by the unnecessary long-windedness of the process. Their reintroduction to the elite affords them home fixtures and away matches with Inter Milan, Werder Bremen and FC Twente, a group that offers both cause for optimism and some element of fear too.
For the other three Premier League clubs, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, their decade or more of constant presence in this competition allows them to feel detached at whomever is drawn to face them. These days, the repetitive nature of the bloated Champions League means the elite is acquainted with itself to such an extent that short of Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Manchester United with Real Madrid, the blockbusters will have to wait until the knock-out stages.
Chelsea face a visit to Marseille, the long journey to Spartak Moscow and Slovakian debutants MSK Zilina while Arsenal meet old foes Shakhtar Donetsk but new opposition in Braga and Partizan Belgrade. The Londoners' Eastern trips may offer some cause for concern.
Of the continent's major names, Ajax Amsterdam's coupling with AC Milan and Real Madrid may yet hark back to memories of the old European Cup and the Dutch may feel they have a chance against ailing Milan, though even this did not quite have the pull of some of this trio's battles of the 1990s.
Even the return of Rangers to Manchester, the scene of their ill-tempered visit to the UEFA Cup final of 2008, is case of having been there and done that. Rangers were swiftly dealt with by United in the winter of 2003, an evening that saw the Glaswegians despatched over the border with chants of "Champions League, yer 'avin a laugh". The more intrepid United fan meanwhile may cherish a visit to the previously uncharted territory of Bursaspor.
Among the drawing of lots by a raft of stars including Gianfranco Zola and cheeky crisp salesman Gary Lineker, came a series of awards for the competition's best players of the 2009-10 season. Needless to say, the best goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward were all drawn from Inter Milan and Julio Cesar, Maicon, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito were all deserved winners in their class, whatever the arbitrary process from which they were selected.
Nowadays, Inter are managed by a cove familiar to Spurs in Rafael Benitez, a man who has the unenviable task of emulating Jose Mourinho's unprecedented Treble of last season. Benitez meanwhile may not be too happy to be reintroduced to a country where his relations with the press ended in a cold war.
Barcelona, as expected favourites, have again drawn a favourable group despite losing last season to Rubin Kazan while Bayern Munich, notwithstanding facing AS Roma, will expect to progress at the expense of Swiss club Basel and Romania's CFR Cluj.
Routine stuff for them perhaps but for Spurs, the journey into a competition that can both make and break a club begins with a visit to Bremen.