How pleased are we that we didn’t finish 4th? Chelsea’s success in lifting Europe’s biggest football trophy also snatched away the Champions League place that Spurs had beaten Newcastle to last weekend.
As we know Newcastle and Liverpool had already qualified for next seasons Europa League but are now joined by ‘arrys ‘appy Spurs. What a shame eh?! Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke and team could it?!
In reality I wanted to see Chelsea win it on Saturday night, and not just to see Redknapp pushed out of Europe. Even though the blue part of London have bought the title over the last few years, I think they have toiled enough with managers and the like in recent times to finally get their paws on the trophy. Abramovich will probably now put his toy down and walk away.
Anyway this guest blog isn’t about Chelsea lifting the trophy or Spurs failing to get a Champions League place. It’s about something else. Watching the final go me thinking about European competition, and whether or not it still has big appeal?
Sky televise 15 live games every game week and millions of pounds for the privilege. It’s this money that affects the way European competitions are structured. It pays for UEFA to have a Champions League in its current format, it pays to have qualifying which filters out the smaller unpopular teams and most of all it pays to have a group stage where some of the worlds “big boys” face each other before any can be knocked out.
The Champions League, and its little brother the Europa League, begin at the end of the previous domestic season with teams fighting for European qualification. The amount of teams qualifying for each tournament depends on the coefficient of the country, so meaning that England and Spain get more spaces because they are bigger more successful nations, and therefore dwarf the smaller nations.
These rules mean that the nations with a low coefficient have clubs in the pre-qualifying and qualifying stages who aspire to make the lucrative group stages which in turn means that the smaller clubs rarely get the chance to make the group stages AND the bigger teams always do so securing more and more money so becoming richer and richer. The Champions League, therefore, does not represent a league of champions as the name would suggest. What it actually represents is a group stage of the rich and famous, plus a few upstarts.
The Europa League can be summed up easily in a few words “wish we were in the Champions League” and that’s the sad truth of how teams who wanted the big league but ended up with second best. Like Spurs and Liverpool who don’t take it seriously because they’re “too big” for it. The only clubs in recent memory who have been bothered were Fulham, Newcastle, Everton and, this season, Stoke, and even then they don’t progress that far (bar Fulham’s final exploits). For me the competition is a dead duck and needs changing.
In the 70s and 80s the love for the European Cup was felt by all and it was an integral part of world football. What’s different now? I tell you, a league stage, a group stage, which is seen by all is a money making scam. Gone are the days when the small teams were going to the Nou Camp for a two leg cup tie, now it’s a game of chess which includes resting players, when it should be a proper knocked competition where Man Utd can be drawn against a lowly Welsh qualifier.
The figures say that 72 clubs start Champions League qualifying and almost 200 clubs start out in the Europa League. Of which there are probably only about 10 champions of respective countries and the rest are made up from the top three or four from England, Italy, Spain and Germany. What UEFA needs to do is have ONE competition which takes the top eight teams (example below) from each league in Europe. Then, because they wouldn’t scrap seeding, have a qualifying round for the lower seeded teams. Then just open the competition up to a free draw with no seedings, straight two-leg knockout cup competition where big teams aren’t favoured and literally anything could happen.
TV wise Sky could pick the top 10 games each round to show right down until the quarter, semi and grand finale. It would reduce the amount of games played so reducing the workload on “overworked” players, cut down on the money spent by fans, allow smaller clubs the chance of earning more money and playing on the bigger stage, and most of all increasing enjoyment/bringing life back into the competition.
How the numbers work…
Either way competition would have eight rounds, all two legs apart from the one game final.
53 countries in UEFA competitions x 8 clubs = 424
Qualifying Round (clubs in countries with bottom 10 coefficient)
So teams would be whittled down from 424 to 256
Then the cup proper….
256 teams – 128 matches
128 teams – 64 matches
64 teams – 32 matches
32 teams – 16 matches
16 teams – 8 matches
8 teams – 4 matches
4 teams – 2 matches
2 teams – 1 match
This would mean that a total of 15 games would be played by each of the teams in the final, or possibly 17 if they had been through qualifying.
So in a nut shell things do need to change, the competition must evolve to survive. The long term sustainability of the Europa League needs to deep investigation, and clearly my idea isn’t without its faults but it’s a simplistic way of bringing the old feel of the European Cup back to the people who matter most, the fans. But hang on, we never matter really, do we Sepp?
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