Tuesday, August 18, 2009

According to Arsene Wenger, who is a clever man and worth listening to, a full European league will probably replace the Champions League within ten years. Now, this suggestion is nothing new. But Europe’s big clubs increasingly get their own way regardless of the governing bodies, the fans, what’s good for football or, indeed, all that is right and just and moral. So if they want it to happen, then it will happen.

In a sense, this suggests that it won’t happen in the near future, because the idea’s been around for a while and if the big clubs wanted it to happen then it would have happened already. A bit like Douglas Adams’ theory that if anyone works out what the universe is for, then it will immediately be replaced by something even more inexplicable – which might mean that the baffling nature of the universe is evidence that this has already happened. But Wenger’s disturbing contention is that the Champions League will eventually no longer be able to supply the revenue which the big clubs need, and so it will need to be replaced by something even bigger.

This is not to criticise Wenger, who is simply calling it as he sees it – he’s always been a critic of excessive spending in football, so we can guess his opinion on this matter. But I’d actually be interested to know whether he agrees with me that this is self-evidently unsustainable. The Champions League has made the big clubs bigger, to the point where they need more money than the Champions League can supply... so the answer is to make an even bigger tournament? Won’t that just result in the same problem another ten years down the line?

And I can’t see how it’s better for fans – quite apart from the increase in time and money involved in following your team, it won’t necessarily result in better games. Matches between the big teams sometimes throw up a bizarre match like last season’s 4-4 between Liverpool and Chelsea, but more often they’re cagey affairs. This used to matter less when the match-ups between European sides were so rare: Manchester United versus AC Milan used to be a once-a-decade event, so it didn’t matter if it was teeth-grindingly dull, you’d watch it anyway.

Now, thanks to the big clubs demanding more such matches, it happens almost every season. Simple economics: make more of a premium product and the value goes down. Make it actually happen every season, and you honestly might as well be playing Tottenham or Everton – it’ll attract no more attention and, ultimately, no more money. It’s like building up tolerance to a drug – your idea of what’s a normal amount changes, you need more to get the hit. Are the big clubs becoming addicted to their own sheer bigness?

It seems like top-level football is turning into some kind of simple parable that parents will one day tell their kids to teach them why they shouldn’t eat infinite numbers of sweets. Football is on its way to becoming The Silly Greedy Monster Who Wouldn’t Stop Eating And Died. There must surely come a point when no further expansion is possible, and the whole thing will collapse. Nothing lasts forever, and these attempts to cash in on the football boom will only hasten its demise. Which might be good, actually.

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