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Just Imagine

European football's changing of the guard?

  • Story Highlights
  • Unfancied teams won the title in the German, Dutch and French leagues
  • Manchester United won their third successive title in England
  • Rangers and Celtic continued their stranglehold of Scotland's top league
  • Both clubs are exploring the possibility of playing elsewhere
By Paul Armstrong
CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- As the season draws to a close across much of Europe there is a sense that the football landscape is changing, with a few unfamiliar names claiming silverware as champions of their respective leagues.

Wolfsburg were the surprise champions in Germany, after only 12 years in the top division.

Wolfsburg were the surprise champions in Germany, after only 12 years in the top division.

In Germany, traditional powerhouses such as Bayern Munich and UEFA Cup finalist Werder Bremen were beaten to the Bundesliga title by a team from a relatively obscure town in northwestern Germany, more famous for being the home of automaker Volkswagen.

Under the guidance of former Bayern coach Felix Magath, Wolfsburg won their first title only 12 years after they first reached Germany's top flight. The "Wolves" had started life as a works team for the car-making giant during World War II.

Likewise the Netherlands' Eredivisie saw the unfashionable AZ Alkmaar being crowned champions, while FC Twente, under former England manager Steve McLaren, finished as runners-up. It was the first time in nearly three decades that one of the "big three" of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord had failed to win the Dutch championship.

Elsewhere in Europe, Lyon's record sequence of seven consecutive French league titles was ended this season by Bordeaux, while in Turkey lowly Sivasspor finished two points behind eventual winners Besiktas. Surprisingly defending champions Fenerbahce and their deadly rivals Galatasaray finished outside the top three. The pair had enjoyed a decade-long monopoly in Turkish football.

So is the wind of change blowing across Europe? Can fans of less-glamorous teams finally dare to think the unthinkable? Lovers of the beautiful game in Britain would probably paint a far less optimistic picture. What do you think? Comment below

Manchester United have just won their third successive English Premier League crown, to equal Liverpool's record haul of 18 Championship titles. United's decorated manager Alex Ferguson has managed to create another dynasty at Old Trafford, where the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo may soon eclipse the achievements of illustrious predecessors such as David Beckham and Roy Keane.

Admittedly United were pushed hard by Liverpool and Chelsea, but aficionados of the game in England have long pointed to the fact that United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are the only clubs capable of mounting a regular, sustained challenge for silverware. With regular Champions League exposure and the financial rewards that come with success, the "big four" have created an exclusive club that the remaining teams have been unable to gain entry to.

For many it's an even bleaker picture in Scotland, despite an exciting finish to the SPL season. Top spot was decided on the final day, with Rangers pipping "Old Firm" rivals Celtic to the title after a win at Dundee United. The result prevented defending champions Celtic from winning a fourth successive Championship. However, both clubs finished more than 20 points ahead of third-placed Hearts.

The worrying statistic for the rest of Scottish football is the fact that no club outside of the Old Firm has won the title since Aberdeen, under the aforementioned Ferguson, managed it in 1985.

With home gates of nearly 60,000 every week and unrivaled financial muscle, the Glasgow giants have long cast their shadow over the Scottish game. Fans of other SPL clubs regularly bemoan the fact their brightest young stars end up in Glasgow. Many would rather their players left to join clubs in England.

Such is their domination of the domestic scene, the possibility of a move to the English Premier League for the Old Firm has been mooted recently. The subject has divided opinion, with many English club chairmen arguing that Rangers and Celtic should start in the bottom division rather than simply parachute into the Premier League's "Promised Land." Others believe their passionate supporters, first-rate stadiums and globally-recognizable brands would enhance an already burgeoning league.

Rangers and Celtic were also reported to have considered proposals to join an Atlantic League, alongside clubs from Portugal, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, as their frustration grows at the financial disparity between Europe's elite clubs. The plan would involve Rangers and Celtic entering a reserve team in the Scottish Premier League.

It remains to be seen what would happen to the game in Scotland. Optimists believe it would flourish and allow teams to keep their teams together for longer, while others think sponsors would desert a league bereft of its prize assets.

But would it be such a bad thing for Hibernian, who were the first British team to be invited to play in Europe, to win the league in Scotland? Ask a supporter of AZ Alkmaar or Wolfsburg.

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