Every so often UEFA likes to flex its administrative muscles to show that its still an organisation with both hands on the wheel of the world’s most lucrative sport, but is the prospect of a 64 team Champions League at the expense of the Europa League a step too far?
Like most things in modern football, the motivation behind this move appears to be financial; as it stands the Champions League generates around £800 million more than the Europa League, so these new reforms are clearly a move to maximise revenue for both UEFA and Europe’s top clubs.
Yet whilst the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham will be licking their lips at the prospect of returning to European football’s top table, the fact remains that expanding the Champions League runs the risk of diminishing the prestige of the biggest competition in club football. Allowing some of Europe’s lower placed teams entry would undoubtedly bring with it a distinct drop in quality.
Initially the novelty of seeing the likes of Maritimo, Levante and Hapoel Tel-Aviv take on Europe’s footballing royalty may seem intriguing, but after a few years of watching a tediously long group stage in which the big names qualify at a canter, will the Champions League be as entertaining as it is now? Probably not.
And then there’s the matter of the Europa League. It has long been considered the red headed step child of European football and it seems that in this elaborate familial metaphor, UEFA President Michel Platini has his heart set on disowning the unwanted son in favour of the pride of the football family. Many clubs see qualification as a hindrance rather than a privilege, but these problems are mainly a result of the poor management of UEFA. With a massive 185 teams and a possible 20 games to reach the final, the format ensures that its hard to even keep track of the competition. Its no surprise that the games are hidden away on ITV4; reserved for the die hard football fans who are happy to watch a few Premier League fringe players get a run out against foreign opposition.
If UEFA chose to condense the Europa League schedule and increase the prize money, or even reward the finalists with a place in the Champions League then perhaps the bigger teams would take it a bit more seriously? But it looks like the only likely reforms on the horizon will see the end of the Europa League and the appeasement of the clubs that covet the riches of the Champions League.
Some of Europe’s top teams have already made noises about forming a breakaway European elite league unless the Champions League is expanded so these changes will probably keep the likes of Barcelona President Sandro Rosell happy. Last year he said: “If UEFA and the ECA [European Club Association] reach an agreement, we would like to increase the Champions League under the umbrella of UEFA. If not, the ECA is entitled to organise their own champions competition.”
It appears that UEFA have been listening; these reforms mean that they will continue to profit from the huge revenues of the Champions League.
And finally, the demands of an increased European schedule would also detract from domestic competitions across the continent, which is and always has been the most important thing for your average football fan. The opinions of the average football fan don’t often factor into the thinking of high ranking UEFA officials, however I think Platini would do well to consider the old adage that quantity does not always mean quality.
Contribution By Mike Reynolds – Follow Mike on Twitter: @Mren7