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Insight

Fancy seeing you here...

Reacquaint yourselves with the big names returning to the Champions League after a prolonged absence – and meet one delighted debutant

WORDS Dan Poole

Feyenoord

So how long since these guys were in Champions League action?

They last played in the competition during the 2017/18 season.

Not too long ago then. And how did that go? 

It could have gone better, to be fair: they finished bottom of their group with three points. 

Ah.

But Feyenoord fans will be hopeful of an improved showing this time around: under impressive manager Arne Slot they reached the Europa Conference League final in 2022, then sealed the Eredivisie title last season for the first time in six years – and only the second time this century.

Mats Wieffer celebrates scoring against Roma in the Europa League last season

Great, so sights aimed high?

Obviously the ideal would be to emulate the boys of 1970, who beat Celtic 2-1 in the European Cup final.

Obviously. Who’s most likely to help them achieve that aim?

Midfielder Mats Wieffer had an impressive first season at De Kuip: the 23-year-old ran the show in midfield, won his first Netherlands caps and has already been signed up to a contract extension. 

Fun fact to finish?

The club had various different names before they settled on their current one in 1973, a more international spelling of Feijenoord, the area of Rotterdam that they are based in.

Arsenal

There was a time when it felt like Arsenal were never not in the Champions League.

Ah yes, the Arsène Wenger years. Under the Frenchman the club qualified for 19 successive seasons, a record that has only been bettered since by Real Madrid (currently on 27). This is the first time since 2016/17 that the Gunners have managed to find their way back.

Why the barren years?

Like Manchester United, the club found it difficult to adjust once their manager of roughly 236 years had left. But there has been a palpable culture shift under Mikel Arteta, to the point that Arsenal came within a longish whisker of winning the Premier League last season.

As close as they came to winning this competition in 2006?

Thought you might mention that. Arsenal fans might prefer you hadn’t: down to ten men after 18 minutes, a goal up 19 minutes later, beaten 2-1 by the time the final whistle blew. The closest they’ve come since then is the semi-finals in 2008/09. 

Any members of the current team who seem made for the Champions League stage?

It will be fun to see Bukayo Saka (below right) strutting his stuff.  Martin Ødegaard will be keen to make an impression too – especially if he comes up against former club Real Madrid – and Declan Rice will be out to show he can do the business at this level.

We need a fact!

They rival Feyenoord in the name-change stakes: first Dial Square, then Royal Arsenal, then Woolwich Arsenal then The Arsenal, then… just Arsenal. Geography played its part: they moved 12 miles to north London from the south in 1913 to avoid bankruptcy, which is when the ‘Woolwich’ part kind of had to be dropped. 

Real Sociedad

It feels like 10 December 2013 might be a good date to mention here.

OK, it feels like you just looked that up… but yes, that was the last time La Real played a Champions League match. And it was a 1-0 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen. And they finished bottom of their group with one point.

Right, moving on…

Yes, let’s. And yes, they have been: a club that were in Spain’s second division as recently as 2010 managed to finish fourth in La Liga last season, hence why they’re here. If they are looking for inspiration, they are best off digging out the video highlights from 1982/83, when the team narrowly lost out to Hamburg in the semi-finals.

La Real’s Japanese winger Takefusa Kubo

And who was that familiar face in midfield last season – Dave something?

You probably mean Manchester City legend David Silva, no less. The 37-year-old joined in 2020 and helped the club win the 2019/20 Copa del Rey. However, he retired in July following a serious knee injury.

Ah. Anyone else we should keep an eye out for?

Takefusa Kubo. The Japanese winger was in Barcelona’s academy and signed for Real Madrid in 2019, but then ended up going out on perennial loan. Now the 22-year-old has found his feet at Real Sociedad and is coming off the back of a brilliant season.

Fact. Give us a fact.

John Toshack has managed this club not once, not twice but three times. His fellow Welshman Chris Coleman also had a stint here, as did Scot and Europa Conference League winner David Moyes.

Union only went up to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019, then secured Champions League qualification on the final day of last season with a goal in the last ten minutes, scored by Rani Khedira (younger brother of Sami). 
By

Newcastle United

Now then, we’re going back a bit further here…

Yes, indeedy: Newcastle’s last appearance in the competition was two decades ago, in 2002/03.

Wow, Bobby Robson et al?

Yes, Bobby’s charges included the likes of Shay Given, Nolberto Solano, Jermaine Jenas and Alan Shearer. Alas, they only made it as far as the second group stage.

Shame. Any runs that were more successful?

Well, no. Their only other appearance was in 1997/98, when they didn’t emerge from the group stage. However, they did record a thrilling 3-2 win over Barcelona, with Faustino Asprilla scoring a hat-trick (and performing a flip or two for good measure). 

Bruno Guimarães

What’s been going on since then?

They were relegated to the Championship in 2009, came back up the following year, went back down again in 2016 and got promoted in 2017. They’ve stayed in the top flight since then, with new ownership and manager Eddie Howe propelling them into the top four last season. 

Which players could get them into the knockouts this time?

Let’s talk spines: Sven Botman is a colossus at the back, Bruno Guimarães has been a revelation in midfield and Alexander Isak is an exciting talent up front. 

Fact, please.

When Newcastle United were first formed, they wore red and white – just like local rivals Sunderland. 

Hmm, just goes to show that not everything in life is black and white. 

Geez.

RC Lens

Where do these guys figure in our timeline?

They’re only just behind Newcastle United, in that they went out in the first group stage in 2002/03 rather than the second. And there’s some weird synergy going on, in that their sole other appearance was a very similar experience to the Toon Army: a 1998/99 group stage exit.

Any highlights from those Champions League experiences?

Well, in 1998/99 they actually finished second in their group, but back then the knockouts didn’t feature a round of 16 so only eight teams went through. That meant the group winners and two best-placed runners-up; Lens weren’t one of them.

Zut alors.

Exactly. They got a famous win against Arsenal at Wembley during that campaign, though, while in 2002/03 they beat AC Milan at home and grabbed a dramatic 3-3 draw at Bayern with pretty much their last – and, thus, most recent – kick in this competition.

And they lit up Ligue 1 last season, right?

Yes, they came within one point of pipping Paris to the title. Manager Franck Haise has done a brilliant job on a tight budget, especially given his side were in Ligue 2 as recently as 2020 and this is his first senior management role.

And the players?

Brice Samba backstopped the best defence in League 1 last season and the good news is that he has signed a new contract.

Un fait, s’il vous plaît.

Ooh, très bien. More French for you, then: the club’s nickname is Les Sang et Or – the Blood and Golds – in reference to their distinctive colours.

Union Berlin

Hang on, we’ve got a newbie!

Yes! A bit of a fairytale, this one: Union only went up to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019, then secured Champions League qualification on the final day of last season with a goal in the last ten minutes, scored by Rani Khedira (younger brother of Sami). 

An exciting European adventure awaits.

That said, they’ve got some recent experience on the continent: they played in the Europa Conference League in 2021/22 and reached the Europa League round of 16 last season. They also reached the second round of the UEFA Cup in 2001/02.

Sheraldo Becker hit 11 Bundesliga goals last season

Still, this is the main event, Die Meister, Die Besten…

Stop it. Yes, it’s incredible that they are going to be performing on this stage. In 2008, the club almost lost its licence to play in the third tier because its terraces were crumbling, so the fans stepped in: more than 2,000 supporters worked for a combined 140,000 hours to complete the renovations. And here we are.

Who are their stars?

Hard to pick out one player, but Suriname winger Sheraldo Becker is exciting to watch in full flow.

Final fact!

Another example of the club’s passionate supporters. In 2004, when the club were perilously close to going bankrupt, a fan-based fundraiser called ‘Bleed for Union’ was organised. In Germany you get paid for giving blood, so thousands of fans popped along to their nearest blood bank, did the deed and gave the proceeds to the club, thereby saving it from extinction.

Bloody good show.

Hmm ... 

No items found.
Insight

Fancy seeing you here...

Reacquaint yourselves with the big names returning to the Champions League after a prolonged absence – and meet one delighted debutant

WORDS Dan Poole

Feyenoord

So how long since these guys were in Champions League action?

They last played in the competition during the 2017/18 season.

Not too long ago then. And how did that go? 

It could have gone better, to be fair: they finished bottom of their group with three points. 

Ah.

But Feyenoord fans will be hopeful of an improved showing this time around: under impressive manager Arne Slot they reached the Europa Conference League final in 2022, then sealed the Eredivisie title last season for the first time in six years – and only the second time this century.

Mats Wieffer celebrates scoring against Roma in the Europa League last season

Great, so sights aimed high?

Obviously the ideal would be to emulate the boys of 1970, who beat Celtic 2-1 in the European Cup final.

Obviously. Who’s most likely to help them achieve that aim?

Midfielder Mats Wieffer had an impressive first season at De Kuip: the 23-year-old ran the show in midfield, won his first Netherlands caps and has already been signed up to a contract extension. 

Fun fact to finish?

The club had various different names before they settled on their current one in 1973, a more international spelling of Feijenoord, the area of Rotterdam that they are based in.

Arsenal

There was a time when it felt like Arsenal were never not in the Champions League.

Ah yes, the Arsène Wenger years. Under the Frenchman the club qualified for 19 successive seasons, a record that has only been bettered since by Real Madrid (currently on 27). This is the first time since 2016/17 that the Gunners have managed to find their way back.

Why the barren years?

Like Manchester United, the club found it difficult to adjust once their manager of roughly 236 years had left. But there has been a palpable culture shift under Mikel Arteta, to the point that Arsenal came within a longish whisker of winning the Premier League last season.

As close as they came to winning this competition in 2006?

Thought you might mention that. Arsenal fans might prefer you hadn’t: down to ten men after 18 minutes, a goal up 19 minutes later, beaten 2-1 by the time the final whistle blew. The closest they’ve come since then is the semi-finals in 2008/09. 

Any members of the current team who seem made for the Champions League stage?

It will be fun to see Bukayo Saka (below right) strutting his stuff.  Martin Ødegaard will be keen to make an impression too – especially if he comes up against former club Real Madrid – and Declan Rice will be out to show he can do the business at this level.

We need a fact!

They rival Feyenoord in the name-change stakes: first Dial Square, then Royal Arsenal, then Woolwich Arsenal then The Arsenal, then… just Arsenal. Geography played its part: they moved 12 miles to north London from the south in 1913 to avoid bankruptcy, which is when the ‘Woolwich’ part kind of had to be dropped. 

Real Sociedad

It feels like 10 December 2013 might be a good date to mention here.

OK, it feels like you just looked that up… but yes, that was the last time La Real played a Champions League match. And it was a 1-0 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen. And they finished bottom of their group with one point.

Right, moving on…

Yes, let’s. And yes, they have been: a club that were in Spain’s second division as recently as 2010 managed to finish fourth in La Liga last season, hence why they’re here. If they are looking for inspiration, they are best off digging out the video highlights from 1982/83, when the team narrowly lost out to Hamburg in the semi-finals.

La Real’s Japanese winger Takefusa Kubo

And who was that familiar face in midfield last season – Dave something?

You probably mean Manchester City legend David Silva, no less. The 37-year-old joined in 2020 and helped the club win the 2019/20 Copa del Rey. However, he retired in July following a serious knee injury.

Ah. Anyone else we should keep an eye out for?

Takefusa Kubo. The Japanese winger was in Barcelona’s academy and signed for Real Madrid in 2019, but then ended up going out on perennial loan. Now the 22-year-old has found his feet at Real Sociedad and is coming off the back of a brilliant season.

Fact. Give us a fact.

John Toshack has managed this club not once, not twice but three times. His fellow Welshman Chris Coleman also had a stint here, as did Scot and Europa Conference League winner David Moyes.

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Union only went up to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019, then secured Champions League qualification on the final day of last season with a goal in the last ten minutes, scored by Rani Khedira (younger brother of Sami). 
By

Newcastle United

Now then, we’re going back a bit further here…

Yes, indeedy: Newcastle’s last appearance in the competition was two decades ago, in 2002/03.

Wow, Bobby Robson et al?

Yes, Bobby’s charges included the likes of Shay Given, Nolberto Solano, Jermaine Jenas and Alan Shearer. Alas, they only made it as far as the second group stage.

Shame. Any runs that were more successful?

Well, no. Their only other appearance was in 1997/98, when they didn’t emerge from the group stage. However, they did record a thrilling 3-2 win over Barcelona, with Faustino Asprilla scoring a hat-trick (and performing a flip or two for good measure). 

Bruno Guimarães

What’s been going on since then?

They were relegated to the Championship in 2009, came back up the following year, went back down again in 2016 and got promoted in 2017. They’ve stayed in the top flight since then, with new ownership and manager Eddie Howe propelling them into the top four last season. 

Which players could get them into the knockouts this time?

Let’s talk spines: Sven Botman is a colossus at the back, Bruno Guimarães has been a revelation in midfield and Alexander Isak is an exciting talent up front. 

Fact, please.

When Newcastle United were first formed, they wore red and white – just like local rivals Sunderland. 

Hmm, just goes to show that not everything in life is black and white. 

Geez.

RC Lens

Where do these guys figure in our timeline?

They’re only just behind Newcastle United, in that they went out in the first group stage in 2002/03 rather than the second. And there’s some weird synergy going on, in that their sole other appearance was a very similar experience to the Toon Army: a 1998/99 group stage exit.

Any highlights from those Champions League experiences?

Well, in 1998/99 they actually finished second in their group, but back then the knockouts didn’t feature a round of 16 so only eight teams went through. That meant the group winners and two best-placed runners-up; Lens weren’t one of them.

Zut alors.

Exactly. They got a famous win against Arsenal at Wembley during that campaign, though, while in 2002/03 they beat AC Milan at home and grabbed a dramatic 3-3 draw at Bayern with pretty much their last – and, thus, most recent – kick in this competition.

And they lit up Ligue 1 last season, right?

Yes, they came within one point of pipping Paris to the title. Manager Franck Haise has done a brilliant job on a tight budget, especially given his side were in Ligue 2 as recently as 2020 and this is his first senior management role.

And the players?

Brice Samba backstopped the best defence in League 1 last season and the good news is that he has signed a new contract.

Un fait, s’il vous plaît.

Ooh, très bien. More French for you, then: the club’s nickname is Les Sang et Or – the Blood and Golds – in reference to their distinctive colours.

Union Berlin

Hang on, we’ve got a newbie!

Yes! A bit of a fairytale, this one: Union only went up to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019, then secured Champions League qualification on the final day of last season with a goal in the last ten minutes, scored by Rani Khedira (younger brother of Sami). 

An exciting European adventure awaits.

That said, they’ve got some recent experience on the continent: they played in the Europa Conference League in 2021/22 and reached the Europa League round of 16 last season. They also reached the second round of the UEFA Cup in 2001/02.

Sheraldo Becker hit 11 Bundesliga goals last season

Still, this is the main event, Die Meister, Die Besten…

Stop it. Yes, it’s incredible that they are going to be performing on this stage. In 2008, the club almost lost its licence to play in the third tier because its terraces were crumbling, so the fans stepped in: more than 2,000 supporters worked for a combined 140,000 hours to complete the renovations. And here we are.

Who are their stars?

Hard to pick out one player, but Suriname winger Sheraldo Becker is exciting to watch in full flow.

Final fact!

Another example of the club’s passionate supporters. In 2004, when the club were perilously close to going bankrupt, a fan-based fundraiser called ‘Bleed for Union’ was organised. In Germany you get paid for giving blood, so thousands of fans popped along to their nearest blood bank, did the deed and gave the proceeds to the club, thereby saving it from extinction.

Bloody good show.

Hmm ... 

Insight

Fancy seeing you here...

Reacquaint yourselves with the big names returning to the Champions League after a prolonged absence – and meet one delighted debutant

WORDS Dan Poole

Feyenoord

So how long since these guys were in Champions League action?

They last played in the competition during the 2017/18 season.

Not too long ago then. And how did that go? 

It could have gone better, to be fair: they finished bottom of their group with three points. 

Ah.

But Feyenoord fans will be hopeful of an improved showing this time around: under impressive manager Arne Slot they reached the Europa Conference League final in 2022, then sealed the Eredivisie title last season for the first time in six years – and only the second time this century.

Mats Wieffer celebrates scoring against Roma in the Europa League last season

Great, so sights aimed high?

Obviously the ideal would be to emulate the boys of 1970, who beat Celtic 2-1 in the European Cup final.

Obviously. Who’s most likely to help them achieve that aim?

Midfielder Mats Wieffer had an impressive first season at De Kuip: the 23-year-old ran the show in midfield, won his first Netherlands caps and has already been signed up to a contract extension. 

Fun fact to finish?

The club had various different names before they settled on their current one in 1973, a more international spelling of Feijenoord, the area of Rotterdam that they are based in.

Arsenal

There was a time when it felt like Arsenal were never not in the Champions League.

Ah yes, the Arsène Wenger years. Under the Frenchman the club qualified for 19 successive seasons, a record that has only been bettered since by Real Madrid (currently on 27). This is the first time since 2016/17 that the Gunners have managed to find their way back.

Why the barren years?

Like Manchester United, the club found it difficult to adjust once their manager of roughly 236 years had left. But there has been a palpable culture shift under Mikel Arteta, to the point that Arsenal came within a longish whisker of winning the Premier League last season.

As close as they came to winning this competition in 2006?

Thought you might mention that. Arsenal fans might prefer you hadn’t: down to ten men after 18 minutes, a goal up 19 minutes later, beaten 2-1 by the time the final whistle blew. The closest they’ve come since then is the semi-finals in 2008/09. 

Any members of the current team who seem made for the Champions League stage?

It will be fun to see Bukayo Saka (below right) strutting his stuff.  Martin Ødegaard will be keen to make an impression too – especially if he comes up against former club Real Madrid – and Declan Rice will be out to show he can do the business at this level.

We need a fact!

They rival Feyenoord in the name-change stakes: first Dial Square, then Royal Arsenal, then Woolwich Arsenal then The Arsenal, then… just Arsenal. Geography played its part: they moved 12 miles to north London from the south in 1913 to avoid bankruptcy, which is when the ‘Woolwich’ part kind of had to be dropped. 

Real Sociedad

It feels like 10 December 2013 might be a good date to mention here.

OK, it feels like you just looked that up… but yes, that was the last time La Real played a Champions League match. And it was a 1-0 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen. And they finished bottom of their group with one point.

Right, moving on…

Yes, let’s. And yes, they have been: a club that were in Spain’s second division as recently as 2010 managed to finish fourth in La Liga last season, hence why they’re here. If they are looking for inspiration, they are best off digging out the video highlights from 1982/83, when the team narrowly lost out to Hamburg in the semi-finals.

La Real’s Japanese winger Takefusa Kubo

And who was that familiar face in midfield last season – Dave something?

You probably mean Manchester City legend David Silva, no less. The 37-year-old joined in 2020 and helped the club win the 2019/20 Copa del Rey. However, he retired in July following a serious knee injury.

Ah. Anyone else we should keep an eye out for?

Takefusa Kubo. The Japanese winger was in Barcelona’s academy and signed for Real Madrid in 2019, but then ended up going out on perennial loan. Now the 22-year-old has found his feet at Real Sociedad and is coming off the back of a brilliant season.

Fact. Give us a fact.

John Toshack has managed this club not once, not twice but three times. His fellow Welshman Chris Coleman also had a stint here, as did Scot and Europa Conference League winner David Moyes.

Union only went up to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019, then secured Champions League qualification on the final day of last season with a goal in the last ten minutes, scored by Rani Khedira (younger brother of Sami). 
By

Newcastle United

Now then, we’re going back a bit further here…

Yes, indeedy: Newcastle’s last appearance in the competition was two decades ago, in 2002/03.

Wow, Bobby Robson et al?

Yes, Bobby’s charges included the likes of Shay Given, Nolberto Solano, Jermaine Jenas and Alan Shearer. Alas, they only made it as far as the second group stage.

Shame. Any runs that were more successful?

Well, no. Their only other appearance was in 1997/98, when they didn’t emerge from the group stage. However, they did record a thrilling 3-2 win over Barcelona, with Faustino Asprilla scoring a hat-trick (and performing a flip or two for good measure). 

Bruno Guimarães

What’s been going on since then?

They were relegated to the Championship in 2009, came back up the following year, went back down again in 2016 and got promoted in 2017. They’ve stayed in the top flight since then, with new ownership and manager Eddie Howe propelling them into the top four last season. 

Which players could get them into the knockouts this time?

Let’s talk spines: Sven Botman is a colossus at the back, Bruno Guimarães has been a revelation in midfield and Alexander Isak is an exciting talent up front. 

Fact, please.

When Newcastle United were first formed, they wore red and white – just like local rivals Sunderland. 

Hmm, just goes to show that not everything in life is black and white. 

Geez.

RC Lens

Where do these guys figure in our timeline?

They’re only just behind Newcastle United, in that they went out in the first group stage in 2002/03 rather than the second. And there’s some weird synergy going on, in that their sole other appearance was a very similar experience to the Toon Army: a 1998/99 group stage exit.

Any highlights from those Champions League experiences?

Well, in 1998/99 they actually finished second in their group, but back then the knockouts didn’t feature a round of 16 so only eight teams went through. That meant the group winners and two best-placed runners-up; Lens weren’t one of them.

Zut alors.

Exactly. They got a famous win against Arsenal at Wembley during that campaign, though, while in 2002/03 they beat AC Milan at home and grabbed a dramatic 3-3 draw at Bayern with pretty much their last – and, thus, most recent – kick in this competition.

And they lit up Ligue 1 last season, right?

Yes, they came within one point of pipping Paris to the title. Manager Franck Haise has done a brilliant job on a tight budget, especially given his side were in Ligue 2 as recently as 2020 and this is his first senior management role.

And the players?

Brice Samba backstopped the best defence in League 1 last season and the good news is that he has signed a new contract.

Un fait, s’il vous plaît.

Ooh, très bien. More French for you, then: the club’s nickname is Les Sang et Or – the Blood and Golds – in reference to their distinctive colours.

Union Berlin

Hang on, we’ve got a newbie!

Yes! A bit of a fairytale, this one: Union only went up to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019, then secured Champions League qualification on the final day of last season with a goal in the last ten minutes, scored by Rani Khedira (younger brother of Sami). 

An exciting European adventure awaits.

That said, they’ve got some recent experience on the continent: they played in the Europa Conference League in 2021/22 and reached the Europa League round of 16 last season. They also reached the second round of the UEFA Cup in 2001/02.

Sheraldo Becker hit 11 Bundesliga goals last season

Still, this is the main event, Die Meister, Die Besten…

Stop it. Yes, it’s incredible that they are going to be performing on this stage. In 2008, the club almost lost its licence to play in the third tier because its terraces were crumbling, so the fans stepped in: more than 2,000 supporters worked for a combined 140,000 hours to complete the renovations. And here we are.

Who are their stars?

Hard to pick out one player, but Suriname winger Sheraldo Becker is exciting to watch in full flow.

Final fact!

Another example of the club’s passionate supporters. In 2004, when the club were perilously close to going bankrupt, a fan-based fundraiser called ‘Bleed for Union’ was organised. In Germany you get paid for giving blood, so thousands of fans popped along to their nearest blood bank, did the deed and gave the proceeds to the club, thereby saving it from extinction.

Bloody good show.

Hmm ... 

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