independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Nobody wants expansion except those who count

Michel Platini

A bloated Champions League would dull domestic competition, says Dion Fanning

With the defending European Champions likely to end the week in the Europa League, UEFA probably picked a good time to raise the idea of abolishing the competition.

Michel Platini announced last week that one of the possibilities being considered by UEFA was an expanded Champions League which would result in the abolition of football's unwanted competition.

Chelsea may go out this week but the final week of the group stages is not a time to be making a case for more of the Champions League. Only three places in the knockout stages are still in play this week and Tuesday night's football involves no issues of qualification, only battles for top place in the groups and the chance to make the Europa League – or avoid it. As a television event, it is not something worth tuning in for.

So UEFA's proposed solution, making the competition even more bloated by doubling its size would appeal to very few, except, of course, the clubs who want guaranteed revenue, not the messy business of competition.

Clubs with great European traditions like Milan and Liverpool have, as the league table stands, very little prospect of making the Champions League positions this season. This uncertainty can't be sustained and UEFA have come up with their proposals as a way of making them happy.

They want sport without pain, certainly sport without financial pain, even though it's not really sport at all.

Clubs want to be protected from their failures and in a world of bailouts, it's easy to see where they got that idea. Football, however, should be about everything that banking is not.

Even though the Europa League has produced plenty of stories, from Fulham's run to the final in 2010, Porto's victory in 2011 and the wonder of Athletic Bilbao last year, it is barely worth it in any sense for clubs.

Financially it is as good as meaningless which is why UEFA are also considering offering a Champions League place to the winner – a pretty obvious solution. The physical consequences are also damaging.

A study of 27,000 matches by fitness coach Raymond Verheijen showed that teams who played on a Sunday following a Thursday night Europa League match were 0.41 points per game worse off.

There is a need for a consolation prize for those clubs who fail to make the Champions League but if the consolation ends up harming the consoled there doesn't seem to be much point.

The logical conclusion would be to play Europa League games across the week from Tuesday to Thursday but UEFA would be reluctant to sanction anything which would draw fans away from the elite competition.

The Champions League has changed how football is viewed. In England, the cup competitions are no longer considered as prestigious by clubs who would rather finish in the top four, but this apathy is matched by supporters who don't watch the FA Cup in the same numbers they once did.

Arsene Wenger is right when he says it is more important to qualify for the Champions League than to win the Carling Cup. This is not simply because of the financial benefits. If the group stages are tedious, the knockout competition is all that football should be. More, however, would invariably mean worse.

Football needs a competitive edge and that would be absent or dulled to the point of irrelevance if the top six or seven in a league were allowed into the Champions League.

It may also come as a surprise to UEFA that there is only so much the players can do. The clubs will make a case for players' welfare but they will make a stronger case for the welfare of their revenue streams.

There remains the suggestion that they want a European superleague, although Platini dismissed it last week.

"This is a matter that regularly comes up, but it does not worry me to be honest. I can't see how it would work outside the framework of UEFA. Who would referee the games? Where would the games be played? Do a lot of people really want it? I don't think so."

A lot of people don't want an expanded Champions League but the people who matter do. Platini knows that and he knows they want as much as they can get. They are used to getting their own way.

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