Sport Soccer

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Numbers not adding up for superleague

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

AS another cold snap hits, it's a good idea to wrap up well, but those readers who want to layer their football anorak know exactly where to go on a Monday morning.

With so many matches called off, this weekend might be a bad example but, normally, the two pages containing scores, teams, attendances, tables, stats and future fixtures in the newspaper has the same effect on a football nerd as a set of keys has on an infant. It's contented smiles all round.

If you need something to amuse your friends, tell them that Morten Gamst Pedersen had the most fouls on Saturday. Bore anybody who'll listen that Manchester United have six more home goals than anyone else. Plan your future by spotting that Arsenal are at home to Liverpool on April 16. There are hours of entertainment in it.

Last Thursday, there was a game between one of the most famous clubs in the world and the one with the most money as Juventus hosted Manchester City and, from there, one stat that screamed out from the tiny type in Friday's paper: 6,992 -- the number of people who bothered to show up to the 1-1 draw.

To put that in a nerdtastic context, a few days before City travelled to the Stadio Olimpico, there were five games in League One in which the attendance reached greater than five figures while Bradford v Hereford drew 3,000 more than were in Turin.

In a competition that mostly takes place on a Thursday and which can use the phrase "runner-up in Group L" as a positive thing, it's unsurprising that there's a limited level of interest but, even though the game was meaningless, it does paint a worrying picture for those who dream of the riches that a European SuperLeague could bring.

Of course, such a scenario wasn't up for discussion by the time Friday morning rolled around in Nyon and Handel's 'Zadok the Priest' belted out to herald the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League.

"These are the Champions," goes the theme tune although if they could manage to squeeze in a lyric "and those who finished fourth, miles behind the actual champions" it might be a little closer to reality.

It's now 57 days until the Champions League returns and, by the end of the four-week period over which the last-16 games are now stretched, it might just about be possible to erase the annual bore-fest of the group stages.

In November, Alex Ferguson described the last six World Cups as "like going to the dentist" when comparing the quality of international football to that of the early stages of the Champions League. (Ferguson, of course, was in charge of Scotland in the one before those six, 1986, which he must remember as a football jamboree).

The quality of both Champions League and Europa League certainly ratchets up once the New Year is past and the reason is simply because teams, unlike the group stages, have no second chance and are unwilling to die wondering.


The obvious decision that would make the competition more exciting would be, as it was in the past, an open draw from the start but none of the big hitters will agree to such a move because of the amount of money they are guaranteed from the group stages.

The current format of the Champions League was created precisely because of the growing influence of clubs who consistently held the threat of a breakaway SuperLeague over the heads of UEFA in order to organise a tournament which generates millions for the lucky ones sitting at the top table.

Those who aspire to join them either have to make the most of the scraps they are given or, like Leeds, gamble with their club's future and hope that their risk sees them consistently playing Barcelona rather than Brighton.

The initial problem of any SuperLeague would be deciding who to invite and, like somebody trying to plan a guest-list for a wedding, trying not to burn bridges with those who have been spurned.

In England, for example, the current top three would be certainties, Manchester City have so much money that they couldn't be rejected, Liverpool have tradition and a huge fan-base, while Tottenham might have something to say on the matter.

The same scenario would play out throughout Europe with teams scrambling not to be left behind but although initial hype would attract plenty of sponsorship and money, the level of interest from supporters would last about as long as the league's competitiveness. In other words, a couple of months.

By that stage, as in all leagues, there would be three or four in contention to win it and, with relegation unlikely in an invitation-only tournament, it would create months of games between teams with nothing to play for.

Even die-hard supporters who have spent years and fortunes buying over-priced, ever-changing replica shirts might just get sick of meaningless games and, in the only language that directors and marketing men understand, vote with their feet, leaving many of Europe's best stadia showing off their seats.

Even Monday morning's results pages wouldn't be enough to keep them interested.

Irish Independent

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