Where the Champions League has flourished in to arguably the world’s greatest club football competition, the Europa League has struggled to make any sort of impact on the aspirations of European teams since it’s birth in 2009. UEFA have to do something to ensure both prosper, but is their latest idea taking things a bit too far?
By Charlie Stockton – @C_Stockton3
Michel Platini has had some strange ideas. His vendetta against goal line technology seems short-sighted at best. He has declared that the sale of players under the age of eighteen is no better than child trafficking. And his hair brained scheme for a twelve city Euro 2020 is so far-fetched that a straight jacket might be called for. But perhaps his most bizarre suggestion to date (a title for which there is fierce competition) is that the Champions League would be improved by expanding the competition until it has 64 teams.
Now, even though it has proved a rude awakening for the Premier League and its claims of global hegemony this season (and last), and even though it throws up the occasional gem, like Celtic’s magnificent triumphs already this year, the group stages can at times feel like a long, drawn out, procession. Occasionally one may fall at the first hurdle, but nine times out of ten your Bayern Munichs, Barcelonas, Real Madrids, AC Milans, Manchester Uniteds and your Arsenals will make it through to the last 16 unscathed. Often without breaking sweat.
How, I ask you, will throwing in 32 teams from the Europa League, as Platini proposes to do, improve things? Celtic have already had to face the might of Finland’s HJK Helsinki, Juventus the giants that are Nordsjaelland and Manchester City were swept aside by Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid as if they were a Sunday league side. Do we really need these clubs to turn over the likes of Rapid Vienna, Molde, and household name Neftchi Baku, to prove their superiority?
There are many suggestions for how to improve the Champions League, and its baby brother the Europa. For me, the latter doesn’t need so much improving as Euthanizing. As for the former, there are constant calls for the Champions League to revert to the straight knockout format of the good old days, and for it to be limited to just the actual league champions.
Both of these would of course hurt UEFA where it hurts, in the wallet. They’ll be opening a pig terminal at Heathrow before UEFA passes up a chance for profit. A straight knock-out would mean fewer matches, less viewers and less revenue. Just admitting league winners would mean that his year there would have been no Barcelona, no AC Milan, no Bayern Munich, no Manchester United and no Paris Saint Germain. Does anyone really want that?
The idea of a European Super League is often mooted too. Where the behemoths of the continent go it alone, own their on terms. This is always a possibility, and perhaps future inevitability. Maybe when the big boys completely ignore UEFA’s Financial Fair Play initiatives they will secede rather than pay the penalties? But for the moment it’s hardly an idea Platini will implement.
But I have read one suggestion recently which, to me at least, made a lot of sense. It came from Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher, who obviously has extensive Champions League experience, and a winner’s medal. Like all the best ideas Carra’s is simple yet elegant at the same time. Put a round of knock-out matches before the group stages. Seed this opening round, thereby letting the minnows have their night at the Bernabeau and giving the big guns a hurdle to negotiate to earn their place in a much tougher group stage. (Who knows maybe we’ll even get a giant killing or two.)
This format would provide four groups equal in quality to this years ‘group of death’ with Real, Dortmund, Man City and Ajax. That would be a mouth-watering prospect, with no reduction in the overall number of matches. From these four groups the top two would each go onto the quarter finals and from there you go forward as normal. Personally I think this is by far the best option, and probably the only one that improves upon the Champions League as it is.
If Platini really is determined to bring about change for change’s sake, then, for me, this is his way to go.
What’s the best way for both of Europe’s premier competitions to flourish? Tweet us @talkingbaws or comment below.