Great – I needed another thing to add to my list of ways in which the Champions League has ruined football, because I currently only have 708. Due to the way that Champions League fixtures now pile up towards the end of the season (and UEFA’s decision to spread the ‘round of 16’ over four weeks), chances are that the week following Easter is always going to have some Champions League action in it. Which means that the grand old tradition of a full programme of fixtures on both Easter Saturday and Easter Monday has gone out of the window. The Football League is running a full programme but the Premier League isn’t bothering.
Perhaps it would have gone that way anyway, as it would mean no fixtures on Sunday and Sky would hate that, and also the big teams cry these days if they are given fixtures 48 hours apart, the poor lambs. There’ve been no New Year’s Day matches for the last two years because it was a bit close to the FA Cup third round, which never used to bother anybody. I know football is more physically demanding at the top level than it used to be, but there is a real benefit to supporters if matches can be played on bank holidays rather than midweek evenings and I think this is a tradition worth keeping. But as I say, the Champions League is doing its best to get in the way.
Couldn’t they just arrange the fixtures anyway and then postpone those involving clubs who are still in the Champions League, as they do with the League Cup final?But then, the FA probably arranged these fixtures on the assumption that all four English clubs would still be in the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, as they were last season and the season before. Fortunately the tournament is finally getting more competitive again, with six nations represented and no more than two from any one country. The British media got terribly excited by the English dominance of the competition’s latter stages, but it was actually rather dull, throwing up overly-familiar fixtures. I used to happily support the English teams in Europe, but at that point I realised their success was running counter to the interests of my own team: it was making them ever richer and more glamorous, thereby consolidating their stranglehold on the top four of the Premier League.
So I started wishing they would fail, which they have, and this pleases me. The Champions League is better for it, and I’m sure Michel Platini will take the credit, although even he probably didn’t expect his revisions to the competition’s format to have quite such an immediate effect. But I would be happier if he’d make it less intrusive. God, I sound like a Daily Express reader – HEY EUROPE! HANDS OFF OUR TRADITIONAL EASTER!