Last week, UEFA confirmed they were looking at the possibility of scrapping the Europa League and merging into a 64 team Champions League.
Sports writer Henry Winter wrote an article in The Telegraph bemoaning the idea, claiming it would be “madness”.
Winter’s article shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic changes in European football over the last two decades.
Winter’s simplistic opening claim that those who don’t qualify should raise their game is almost laughable. It’s a bit difficult when Champions League is the direct root cause of those teams being unable to do so.
The Champions League has created the ultimate demonstration of the “rich get rich and the poor get poorer” — the rich part in particular.
Prior to the creation of the Champions League, domestic Leagues across Europe were regularly won by a myriad of teams; now, you can list two or three from each of the major Leagues who will be contenders for the next five years, let alone the next season.
It’s difficult to see anyone other than Barcelona or Real Madrid winning La Liga anytime soon. It’s difficult to see anyone other than Man United, City or Chelsea winning the Premier League any time soon.
In the last 17 years, there had been three different winners of the Premier League – until Man City spent almost £1bn in order to add their name to United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Domestically too the impact has been seen. The FA Cup winners in the 20 years before Champions League included West Brom, Southampton, Coventry, Stoke, Newcastle, Everton, Ipswich, West Ham and Sunderland. Post-1995, that list features Chelsea, Arsenal, Man United, Liverpool, Man City – and Portsmouth, who went into administration and are now in the third tier of English football because of it.
Admittedly, the introduction of the Premier League has also played a part here; but the Champions League has created an environment where the ‘top’ players only wish to sign for CL participants, and when players sign for non-CL teams, they see it as a stepping stone to get a move to a CL entrant. Will Luis Suarez stick around at Anfield without CL football for his whole career? Same with Fellaini, and Baines, at Everton. They’ll move to get CL football soon, and Everton are back a step again.
Huge institutions like Everton, Villa, Newcastle now have slim (arguably zero) chance of ever winning the League ever again unless Champions League is diluted. Arguably too Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal.
Back in Spain – Barca and Real finish more than 40 points ahead of fifth (non CL) placed team. Hardly fair to suggest they should simply “raise their game” is it.
Anyone who has read Paul Tomkins’ ‘Pay as you Play’ will understand how clearly the correlation of money to success is. Champions League is where the money is and the division gets greater by the season. Liverpool are attempting to leverage their commercial revenues in order to make up some of the ground but it will never be enough. The only way to make up the ground is to do what City did and throw huge wages at top players in order to attract them before you can offer CL football.
Anyway, as we all know, it’s hardly a Champions League now anyway.
By levelling the playing field somewhat and diluting the CL, you’d have players who at the moment sign for a CL team but aren’t necessarily first-team players, they would actually sign for a slightly lower placed team where they would play more regular football. Thus teams then can bridge that gap. Domestic football would be revived and stronger competition across the board.
The Premier League is no longer competitive – despite what Sky may have you believe. You can count on one hand the potential League champions in your future lifetime. CL qualified teams are so strong they play reserve teams in the FA Cup and still dominate that competition.
The cycle of prize money > wages > transfer fees and the fact top players wont play outside CL have snowballed into crazily uncompetitive domestic competitions.
Telling teams to simply raise their game? Even if they were able, their best players would then just leave for a bigger, richer, CL club anyway. That’s not competitive, that’s a breeding ground for domestic dominance.