I thought I’d seriously overslept this morning waking to the news that the Champions League could become the ‘Chumpions League’ by allowing it to contain 64 teams. I thought I’d slept to the 1st of April.
Of course UEFA might argue this is a logical extension of the present arrangement given the whole original idea of the tournament was that the League winners in each country competed against each other for the title of European Champions, hence its name.
But in recent times with 3, or even 4 teams from the English Premier league qualifying for the tournament it should be called the Top Few Teams League as it is no longer played for, or won by, League Champions alone.
Last season of course both Manchester clubs failed to reach the knockout stages of the competition with City failing to do so this year as well. Chelsea of course won the competition last year and are in the competition as a result of that, despite finishing out of the qualifying places in England. This has all made a nonsense of the competition’s original intent.
So maybe it’s not so foolish to make it 64 teams, perhaps it’s just a Scouse attempt to get into the competition although that might require it to be 128 teams (which is perhaps where it is going).
Pondering the reasons why UEFA might do this seems to raise a few potential reasons.
Firstly, the Europa League is really not a competition anyone cares much about. The idea that Thursday night football might draw a pre-weekend crowd hasn’t happened and it really ranks alongside the League Cup as a trophy chance for the mid-table clubs or top club reserve teams. Maybe this would allow that competition to be scrapped like it should be.
Secondly, it’s money. UEFA will make more if there are more games and they think there is an appetite for more TV time. I’m not so sure about that.
Finally, it’s the precursor to a European League for the top teams.
The future might look like 2 European leagues of about 24 teams maybe even two equal Conferences like the NFL with a play-off type finish. The idea of keeping teams engaged in a struggle for longer is the conundrum for this arrangement where relegation might be scrapped but the fact that the Country leagues are becoming so predictable must be pushing towards a more competitive and engaging arrangement.
I previously wrote that London and Manchester now provides the only league winners for the foreseeable future but Paris, Barcelona, Turin, Madrid, Milan and Munich could be said to be the only realistic winners for the vast majority of time in their Countries. A Champions League winner from outside these places is also very unlikely.
So is this idea of an enlarged European midweek league a glimpse of the future?
I don’t think so.
What I want to see is a more equitable Premier League with promotion and relegation and history and partisanship. A competitive league even if financial fair play rules need to be enforced to restrict wages, transfer budgets and restore balance.
In the US the salary cap does make the leagues in NBA, MLB and NFL more equitable and unpredictable. The franchise arrangement does weaken the partisanship and the history, but we can learn some things from them that would make our game better.
Relating salary cap to a statistic like crowd size would keep ticket prices down and drive stadium sizes up while limiting wages. Right now the idea that players and managers receive so much money such as Chelsea’s £86m on managers since Roman Ambromovich became Emperor, the £7.7m a year paid to David Moyes or the £250k per week to Yaya Toure, creates a total disconnect between say the Prime Minister and the manager of a football club, that does need some control. Equally the ridiculous losses made by Chelsea and City by fossil fuel inspired owners makes the League title a commodity traded by the mega rich. That’s not good for the game.
So UEFA, I say you keep your idea in the brown envelope from which it originated, that you strive to bring some balance to the money in the game such that spectator facilities are improved thru wage control and competitive leagues are the driver to long term success.
Sport is attractive because anything can happen, that is what keeps us on the edge of our seats.
Right now my pre-season predictions are looking quite good, and that’s because it is too easy to predict how bad Liverpool, Norwich, Southampton and Reading will be. It’s also easy to predict the top 3.
I’d like the league to better reflect life, which is all the better for its unpredictability and discovery.
Chumpions League…..you can keep it.
By Steve Burrows CBE @ifollowsteve