How do UEFA solve a problem like Europe?

December 3, 2012 in Europe by Jonathan Holdstock

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The Champions League is arguably the greatest club competition in the world; a tournament steeped in history, graced by the world’s best players from years gone by, and has offered up some truly memorable games in its 57-year history, if we count the European Cup. It still offers that today, despite being bloated by the group stage. The Europa League, in comparison, has always been the problem child, the one who has not achieved the dizzy heights of its brother, and instead of being loved, it’s seen as a waste of time by both managers and fans. Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, has seemingly noticed this and has had some thoughts about the future of both competitions and has mooted the possibility of combining the two. Is this a good idea? And what else could they do to shake things up a bit?

Platini is thinking about letting in the top seven teams from the elite leagues such as the Premier League, Spanish, French, Italian and German leagues. This is great news if you are an upper mid-table team such as Liverpool, as you get to compete with the world’s best teams and potentially get quite a bit of money, but for the Barcelonas, the Bayern Munichs, it just seems like a waste of time. Imagine the difficulty of having a 64-team competition. Would you have sixteen groups of four teams? Eight groups of eight teams? Four groups of sixteen? You get the picture. Clubs will not have time to play lots of European games in midweek; even the current schedule sees teams struggle with injuries and fatigue, so if you add more games, you can imagine that managers would be furious at this prospect.

Certainly there would be some advantages, one of the big reasons being money. More games means more television money for the clubs and for UEFA, which, in all honesty, is probably why they are mainly considering doing it. The other advantage could be that it might revive some ailing domestic competitions, particularly in England, with teams potentially taking the Carling Cup or FA Cup more seriously if it offers up a place in this competition. Arsenal might even risk winning a trophy if it meant qualification and more money to line the board’s pockets.

I don’t think it will work by combining the two, so what do you do with the Europa League? Because, let’s face it, it has some decent matches but it is mainly awful. Who wants to see Panathanikos play Maribor, right? Well, I really don’t see why they can’t just revert it to the good old fashioned straight knockout format that was so exciting in the Cup Winners Cup. There were no silly mini leagues, no pointless games, every match was important and this meant that players, managers and fans cared about it. If UEFA played the games the week after the Champions League group games, they could put the fixtures on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings, which would help clubs drive more numbers through the turnstiles; Thursday nights just do not feel right for football and it then means that teams have to play on a Sunday, which is not too bad occasionally, but becomes a pain for the fans every other week.

Why not also offer the winner a place in next year’s Champions League too? I don’t know why this isn’t the case already. Yes, the team that wins the Europa League cannot defend their title, but you get a new winner every year. That is anything but boring.

The one competition every football fan wants to see are the real big clubs forming their own breakaway competition. Imagine a small league containing Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Juventus, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. How epic would that be? The top four could progress to a knockout phase to decide who would be crowned the real champions of Europe. It probably will not ever happen, but this is what UEFA should be looking at doing - decreasing the size and increasing the quality.