Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Borussia Dortmund, in yellow, got the better of Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate on both Group D games.
Borussia Dortmund, in yellow, got the better of Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate on both Group D games.

Uefa's dilemma over future of Europa and Champions League

With Uefa considering the merging of two European events, Ian Hawkey examines whether too many fixtures dilute quality.

Johan Cruyff won the European Cup as a player and a coach, and he once came up with an apt description of what can happen when the modern version of club football's most prestigious competition spreads itself too thin.

He reckoned too many Champions League fixtures were "decaffeinated", and that audiences were becoming blase about them.

The competition has undergone significant reform since Cruyff bemoaned the artificial diluting of a tournament that has had a romance about it since it was launched in the mid-1950s, particularly the elimination of an unpopular second-group phase, before the quarter-finals, but his point remains valid.

The Uefa Champions League is a huge success. It motivates its participants more than domestic leagues or cups and in many cases, more than achievements they might aspire to with their national teams.

But it is also flawed in some of its details, which is why its proprietors, Uefa, will tinker again with the structure of the competition before the beginning of the 2015/16 season.

Uefa's president, Michel Platini, talking to the Ouest-France newspaper last week, answered a question about a possible merger between the Champions League and its orphan cousin, the Europa League, with the suggestion that a format in which 64 teams started the season together on the starting blocks of a single, expanded tournament, might be an idea under Uefa's consideration.

The reaction among professionals has been largely dismissive, even angry. Jurgen Klopp, the head coach of Borussia Dortmund, called the notion "nonsense, the equivalent of uniting the German first and second divisions into one league". Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal, said "it would lower the level and could take some interest out of the first stages of the competition".

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, president of Bayern Munich and a senior voice in the European Clubs Association (ECA), a powerful and persistent lobby group often at odds with Uefa, lined up firmly "against anything that reduces quality for the sake of increasing quantity".

Wenger, Klopp and Rummenigge all speak from a position of current strength. Their clubs go into this week's last matches of the Champions League group stage already certain of progress to the knockout phase.

Indeed, of all the 32 teams who lined up in the eight groups of four in September, only six - Chelsea, Juventus, Galatasaray, Cluj, Celtic and Benfica - have reached the last mini-league match day with the question of progressing or being eliminated still at stake.

That is what Cruyff would call a decaffeinated scenario. Look across the fixtures: suspense is at a premium.

A nostalgic would argue this is the problem with a group phase, that a straight knockout cup, as the competition was from its invention until 1991, makes every fixture relevant. But it was in response to one of the concerns that still preoccupies many prominent clubs in the ECA that Uefa first introduced league formats to European club competitions.

So significant is the income, generated chiefly from broadcasting and sponsorship, that clubs gain from participation in the Champions League they are bound to regard a minimum of six matches in it - at the group stage - as preferable to the possibility of just two, which a home-and-away knockout format risks.

The downside is the kind of stagnant fixture list that looms this week, and indeed, is also a feature of the final matches of the Europa League's 12 groups, from which 19 out of 24 qualifiers for the next phase are already known.

Platini worries about the Europa League, and rightly.

Despite its size - 48 teams lining up in it each September - it brings in less than 25 per cent of the income of the Champions League and cannot help but be regarded as an overflow tank for wastage as long as teams finishing third in their Champions League groups fall into the Europa League in the new year.

That mechanism was put in to generate more suspense in weeks like this. It has not served to add lustre to the Europa League, which for clubs in the wealthier national leagues ranks as a lower priority than domestic football.

Platini would argue that a big Europa League helps make all of Europe more competitive, and that a broader base of experience in Uefa tournaments means new challengers to the elite emerge.

He would point to a Europe in which a team from Belarus - BATE Borisov - can beat Bayern, Celtic defeat Barcelona and the reigning champions, Chelsea, stand on the verge of elimination in December.

He would reckon events like those show the Champions League has enough natural caffeine in it to stimulate thoughts about how, one day soon, it might get bigger without being blander.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Al Rayyan's Yakubu Ayegbeni, left, tries to escape the attention of Jazira's Khamis Ismail. Karim Jaafar / AFP Photo

Late strike puts Al Jazira on verge of qualifying for the last 16 of Asian Champions League

All to play for across East Asia during final round of group phase.

 Manchester City's Vincent Kompany reacts after being sent off by referee Lee Mason during their English Premier League soccer match against Hull City at the KC stadium in Hull, northern England March 15, 2014. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Man City’s Manuel Pellegrini says Vincent Kompany is an important player

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini defends team captain and talks about team's injuries ahead of clash with Sunderland at home on Wednesday night.

 Supporters of China during the Asian Cup Qualifier match between Iraq vs China at Sharjah football stadium in Sharjah. Iraq won the match by 3-1. Pawan Singh / The National

Asian Cup expanding to 24 football teams in 2019

As part of a regional shake-up, the 2019 Asian Cup will climb to 24 teams but next month’s Challenge Cup in the Maldives will be the last, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced.

 Latifa Ali Al Shamsi of UAE fights compatriot Boshra Ghanem Al Zadjali in their 38.5kg match at the Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Christopher Pike / The National

Competitors at Abu Dhabi Junior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship target world domination

All of Wednesday’s winners at the tournament, being held in the UAE capital, are ambitious enough to target a black belt and reach the pinnacle of the sport, Amith Passela reports.

 Jacques Kallis top-scored with 72 for Kolkata Knight Riders against Mumbai Indians at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. Pawan Singh / The National

Kallis kicks off IPL 7 with fifty as Kolkata thrash Mumbai

South African legend shows class is permanent as Knight Riders beat defending champions by 41 runs. Osman Samiuddin reports from Abu Dhabi.

 Amir Khan, during a workout at the Gloves Community Centre on March 24, 2014 in Bolton, England, says his fight will be the real main event in Las Vegas on May 3. Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Amir Khan says bout with Luis Collazo ‘will steal the show’ in Las Vegas on May 3

British-Pakistani boxer Amir Khan says his fight with Luis Collazo will be the main attraction on same fight card led by Floyd Mayweather Jr and Marcos Maidana, writes Omar Al Raisi.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National