x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Uefa’s geographical expansion hurting world history

Move by Uefa chiefs to expand tournaments across the world will take the charm away and dilute established order.

Spain and Brazil contested the final of 2013 Confederations Cup which has teams from across continents playing before the World Cup. Christophe Simon / AFP
Spain and Brazil contested the final of 2013 Confederations Cup which has teams from across continents playing before the World Cup. Christophe Simon / AFP
If it is a bad idea, then you can be sure that a football authority or committee, somewhere, has already thought of it.
The latest brainstorm is the suggestion by a Uefa official that future European Championships could include the best football nations from North and South America as well as Asia.
Alongside, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, the likes of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Japan would be invited for what would be a World Cup-rivalling event.
To many fans, this might seem like football utopia; but they should be careful what they wish for, it may come back to haunt them.
Uefa chiefs are clearly no fans of geography – as recent plans to play Euro 2022 across 12 or 13 countries instead of one hinted.
They do not seem too concerned about your average football fan's financial capacity to travel around the continent watching their team.
This is no surprise. Beyond the patronising lip service, football stopped being about supporters a long time ago.
The homogenisation of the international game, like club football, continues relentlessly. And the new plans are not actually new at all.
The Confederations Cup, now established as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, already hosts a mixture of teams similar to the one Uefa is proposing.
The new plan of European football's governing, however, would be a major leap on that eight-team tournament.
“The ideas are at an early stage but they are very feasible,” an adviser of Michel Platini, the Uefa president, said. “The South Americans have been doing it for decades, inviting teams from outside their continent to take part in the Copa America. So why cannot Europe?”

Indeed, since 1993 the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica have all taken part in the Copa America, South America's version of the European Championship. Japan was even invited in 2011 before withdrawing.
But Mexico in Peru is one thing; Mexico in, say, Stockholm, quite another.
It does not stop there. The Concacaf Gold Cup, the North American equivalent of the Euros or Copa America, has already seen the likes of Brazil, South Africa and South Korea compete.
Leading football nations, and now Uefa, might welcome such developments, but what of those left behind? Asian and African football, in particular, could suffer.
If geography is no longer the primary consideration, then what is to stop Japan, hypothetically, from abandoning the Asian Football Confederation for good, in the same way that Australia did the Oceania Football Confederation in 2006?
Some may argue that this is nothing more than footballing Darwinism. Adapt or die.
But would such a development sacrifice variety and the progress of emerging nations?
The Euros were already being expanded to 24 teams, even before the suggestions of playing the matches across multiple cities.
And now this.
If you are starting to think this all sounds vaguely familiar, you have been paying attention.
It will be, for all intents and purposes, the Uefa Champions League: International Edition.
And nothing breeds boredom like familiarity. The group stage of Europe's premier club competition is more and more a testament to how greed can turn the best of ideas into sterile processions.
Same teams, season after season; same results; and a select pool of potential winners that gets smaller by the year.
The days when Porto (2004) or even a former European giant like Ajax (1995) can win the tournament look like they are gone forever.
The new concept would also bring more of the same old players, just in different shirts.
It is hard to argue that, technically, the quality of football in the World Cup is superior to the Champions League.
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund seem to be playing a brand of football from the future, as Barcelona did with their “tiki-taka” for a long time, and continue to do so with a somewhat watered down version these days.
Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea, AC Milan and Manchester United will also be there or thereabouts, every season.
A revamped European Championship will be seen as an even more direct, and damaging, challenge to the World Cup's stature.
Will Fifa stand for further dilution of its flagship event?
Or is there something much larger at play here? Fifa, to invoke the old Chinese curse, is living through some very interesting times thanks to the debate that has evolved around Qatar's World Cup hosting in 2022, as well as the seemingly never-ending allegations of corruption.
There are also suggestions of a growing rift with Uefa, which could see its 13 spots at the World Cup and eight representatives at the Fifa Executive council reduced. The Europeans are unlikely to take that lying down.
Since 1904, Fifa has ruled world football's landscape unrivalled.
Could Uefa's grand plan, should it ever gain traction, be seen as anything other than a major power play against its more powerful rival?
akhaled@thenational.ae