Europe's elite want to turn the Champions League into a closed shop - this week's semi-final between two upstarts shows why that's unacceptable
On May 20, 1992, Johan Cruyff gathered his Barcelona players together for one final team talk before their European Cup final against Sampdoria at Wembley.

There was to be no rallying cry; no call to arms. The Dutchman spoke calmly and quietly and the message was characteristically simple.

"It’s a beautiful night," he said. "The lights are shining. And there are thousands of fans here to see you.

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"Go out and enjoy yourselves."

And they did. That night in London, Barcelona lifted their first European Cup.

For all of the importance that Cruyff attached to football and its tactics, he believed that it was fundamentally a game to be enjoyed.

That it should be fun, for everyone involved.

"The public and the players should enjoy football," he once wrote. "Football is spectacle. If not, it's not football."

Not everyone sees it like that, of course. It is far easier to destroy than create.

And it can be difficult to enjoy the game these days when money has become the determining factor between victory and defeat, reducing many leagues to foregone conclusions.

Cruyff, though, never adhered to the belief that it was impossible to compete with football's big boys.

"Why couldn’t you beat a richer club?" he once asked. "I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal."

That remains as true as it ever was but, nowadays, bags of money can certainly move the goalposts.

Since football became big business, the rich have got richer, stronger, more powerful and, consequently, more dominant.

Money has completely changed the game. It was the driving force behind the creation of both the Premier League and the Champions League.

Both have been colossal commercial and sporting successes.

Nothing is ever enough, though.

The Premier League has long toyed with the idea of staging games overseas so as to exploit foreign markets, while the Champions League has been continually expanded and revamped to ensure that Europe's elite get bigger and bigger slices of the pie.

ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli is now pushing for a new format in 2024: 32 teams in four groups, with the introduction of promotion and relegation.

Domestic league results would no longer determine qualification for European competition.

Thus, the thinking behind the reform is pretty simple: guaranteed inclusion for Europe's biggest clubs in a competition guaranteeing more games and, thus, more money.

"If these reports are true, and I have no doubt they are, then the Champions League would become a closed circle from 2024,” Georg Pangl, general secretary of the Association of European Professional Football Leagues, told Bild last month.

"It would be more or less the same 32 top clubs each year, without the champions of the national leagues getting a chance to qualify. That would be absolutely unacceptable."

Not for Agnelli, though. Or his supporters.

He claims that it is not just Juventus who are in favour of the reform but also Bayern Munich and Real Madrid – funnily enough, three clubs already eliminated from this season's Champions League.

For them, football needs a 'Super-Champions League' because the current competition doesn't offer enough guarantees.

Just two weeks ago, we were treated to two nights of incredible sporting drama as Tottenham and Ajax sprung two sensational surprises by eliminating Manchester City and Juventus, respectively.

It was a victory for football but an embarrassing defeat for big business.

Neither Tottenham nor Ajax are major players in the European game. They weren't asked to be one of the 11 founding members of the Super League the German newspaper Der Spiegel disclosed details of last November. They didn't even feature among five of the 'guest' clubs.

Spurs have never even won the European Cup, while Ajax haven't lifted the trophy since 1995, when they upset the odds with an outstanding crop of graduates from their famed academy.

Neither have major pulling power. Both have succeeded in spite of their financial limitations.

Ajax are forced to continually sell their best players, while Tottenham haven't signed one since January 2018.

But both have made the most of the resources available to them. As Cruyff once said, "Every disadvantage has its advantage."

Unable to throw money at problems, Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino have resolved them with their considerable coaching skills.

What they lack in wealth they make up for in innovation. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.

So it has come to pass that an Ajax squad assembled at a cost of €95 million (£82m/$107m) eliminated the world's wealthiest club, defending champions Real Madrid, from the last 16 of the Champions League, before upsetting Juventus, who signed Cristiano Ronaldo for €114m last summer, in the quarters.

Tottenham, meanwhile, edged out the Abu-Dhabi funded Manchester City to reach the last four, thanks in no small part to the game's new great leveller, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

Indeed, there was a delicious irony in VAR playing a dramatic and decisive role in eliminating City – having eliminated Qatari-backed Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round in similar circumstances – simply by applying the rules on the field to two clubs who have broken them off the field.

And now we have Ajax versus Spurs in the semis – the ultimate two-fingered salute to the Super League and all of its supporters.

This tie also offers hope to every other club marginalised by the rise of the super-clubs that it is possible to not just compete with the elite – but to beat them.

And not by defending for their lives either – but by playing good football.

Not that we should be surprised. Spurs and Ajax share a similar ethos, with similar origins.

Bill Nicholson and Vic Buckingham both played under Peter McWilliam at Middlesbrough, where they embraced the idea of offensive, possession-based football.

Nicholson expanded on what he learned at Tottenham. Buckingham did likewise at Ajax, paving the way for a footballing revolution overseen by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff.

Nicholson once said, "It’s no use just winning, we’ve got to win well", while his double-winning captain of 1961, Danny Blanchflower, memorably summed up Spurs' ethos by arguing, "The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind.

"The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

According to one of Cruyff's disciples, Ronald Koeman, for his master, "it wasn’t enough just to win; success had to be achieved in a manner that would be remembered and discussed for years.”

Spurs and Ajax are, thus, two clubs linked by history, and a footballing philosophy.

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With Liverpool or Barcelona set to progress to the final, whoever prevails in this week's semi-finals between the Champions League's upstarts may not even go on to lift the trophy.

But that's not the point. What matters is that they're here, in the last four, despite the best efforts of the likes of Agnelli to make the tournament a closed shop.

What matters is that they're going to go out and enjoy the occasion. We should enjoy the spectacle. Just as Cruyff would have wanted.