Sunday, January 28, 2007

This week the G14 – the cabal of European super-clubs who are diligently attempting to ruin football – could be heard bleating at the appointment of Michel Platini as UEFA president. Yes, he’s mates with Sepp Blatter and that obviously counts against him, but the G14 mainly hates his plan to modify the Champions League (remember: it’s not a league and half the teams in it aren’t champions). Platini wants to reduce the top allocation of Champions League places – the one enjoyed by Italy, Spain and England – from four to three. Given that pretty much everybody agrees that Champions League money has totally distorted the Premiership to the point where only four clubs can conceivably win it, the only people who think this is a bad idea are those involved with those four clubs.

Alex Ferguson bizarrely said he couldn’t see how this would work: either the tournament would have to be made smaller or other countries would get two places. Either he’d been at the red wine when he said this, or he couldn’t be arsed to give it more than two seconds’ thought, because surely it’s obvious that Platini’s thinking is that some clubs from smaller countries can be spared the qualifying round and go straight into the lucrative group phase. This would not damage the tournament at all: you could argue that there would be less quality teams in the group phase under this system, but given that qualifiers FC Copenhagen managed to beat Man Utd this season, they are clearly capable of holding their own.

The fact that the big clubs are complaining that they depend upon Champions League revenue is very telling. They can predict with reasonable confidence that they’ll make it every year and, generally, they do. That shouldn’t be what the European Cup is about. It should be a big achievement just to make it at all. And the UEFA Cup should be a desirable consolation prize, whereas now it’s frankly a load of bollocks: you slog all season to make it to fifth in the table and you’re generally rewarded with a series of defiantly unglamorous trips to Eastern Europe to face hard-tackling teams on churned-up pitches. It’s like playing lower league sides in the FA Cup, only you have to travel further and you’re more likely to get beaten. Forcing some of the big boys to slum it in the UEFA Cup would certainly improve it, perhaps even to the point where someone other than Channel Five bids for the rights to show it.

Being a bit of a tedious sentimentalist when it comes to football, I’d like to have some more underdogs in the Champions League. But the G14 has no interest in underdogs, because their motto is ‘Let’s make sure we win everything there is for ever and ever’. Probably. Outgoing president Lennart Johansson has warned against standing up to the G14, fearing a breakaway, but we can’t let them pull that threat every time something happens which they don’t like. Theirs isn’t the only interest that needs to be catered to. Maybe the underdogs should form their own pan-European cabal. And maybe Villa could form a cabal of formerly great teams with hazy memories of the good old days, along with Nottingham Forest, Ajax and Internazionale.

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