The Champions League: If it ai...

Soccer

The Champions League: If it ain't completely broke...

Raf Diallo
Raf Diallo

07:50 9 May 2019


Share this article


There's no guarantee that every Champion League campaign is going to be an epic.

And just because we've seen two epic two-legged semis, doesn't mean the format of the current competition is perfect.

European football as a whole has major issues when it comes to equality between the haves and have-nots. Take the Ajax story for example. This season shouldn't be an anomaly for a storied club of their ilk. Yet it unfortunately is and that's the way it's become over a two-decade stretch.

Tottenham, far from the richest club in the Premier League, had acquired a host of Ajax players over the years. Some of those were on show across the two legs, from Christian Eriksen and Davinson Sanchez to Belgian pair Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.

Big 5 League Dominance

So clearly in those players' eyes, making the big-money move to Spurs at the times that they did was a step up financially and career progression. But it just goes to show the gap between the likes of the Premier League and from those outside the elite echelons of the Top 5 Leagues. They dominate when it comes to the number of places allocated in the group stages.

And a stat doing the rounds just shows how much European football has changed:

Ajax was almost an anomaly. But the way things are, we are unlikely to ever see a Benfica or PSV repeat past European glories, let alone a Steaua Bucharest, Celtic or Red Star Belgrade.

We had the pleasure of speaking to one of Celtic's Lisbon Lions, Jim Craig, on Team 33 in 2017 and how sad would it be if stories like that are confined to the annals of history.

Even vast swathes of the Big 5 Leagues can't realistically aspire to doing that now. Perhaps, they could do a Tottenham and build a strong squad and structures over time. But you'd bet against it. Elite European football is in the iron grip of an ever more exclusive clutch of clubs.

"Ideas and Opinions"

And from the noises emanating from those same elite clubs, the gap created may become even more stark. The Champions League is the one vehicle at their disposal where they can really hammer home their advantage.

UEFA have been consulting clubs about the shape of European football beyond 2024.

UEFA, Aleksandar Ceferin File photo dated 03-12-2018 of Aleksander Ceferin

"What is important to remember is that, despite a lot of talk in the media, no decisions have been made," said UEFA president Alexander Ceferin.

"At the moment we have only ideas and opinions."

He did add that solidarity payments filtering down the pyramid is part of their thoughts. But what do we know about those "ideas and opinions"?

Promotion and relegation is one thing well as the inclusion of more clubs and matches.

That's been more or less confirmed as a possible eventuality by European League representative Lars-Christer Olsson, who is privy to those discussions which involve the European Club Association (ECA) which represents the clubs.

"There are ideas about promotion and relegation in the system, it's a different system from the one we have today. The total picture is there should be more clubs involved, for example," he said.

Sub-Optimal?

The promotion and relegation aspect in particular seems to suggest that some clubs, especially the elite, will be almost guaranteed places in the Champions League regardless of domestic league performance.

That opens up another divide between the leagues like the Premier League and La Liga and the syndicate of big clubs, given that their interests in that case would not fully align.

Juventus chairman and ECA president Andrea Agnelli has described the current format as "sub-optimal".

But so would a format that leans even more towards the big clubs than it already does. And so would more matches. What is rare can sometimes be beautiful. Throwing in more games dilutes the special nature of the Champions League nights.

If it affects the big clubs' ability to earn even more, so be it. What should be looked at with more urgency is realigning the balance of the game in Europe.

Beyond solidarity payments and competition formats, there are other areas that UEFA should look at. For example squad sizes. Some big clubs - they know who they are - essentially horde talent. A percentage of those players eventually develop into first-teamers at their parent club. But many are also shipped out on loan season after season. If that talent was spread around and downwards outside a loan system, other clubs would be able to benefit.

Incentivise

Of course, one must note that some clubs below the elite essentially live off selling talent up the pyramid to the detriment of sustainable squad building. But they have developed those business models as a means of survival in a world set against them.

Incentivising the production and retention of academy talent is another area. But only if there are legal means of preventing an arms race in the recruitment of young talent from this continent and further afield.

And even for the big clubs, they should be wary of weakening the pyramid below them. Paris Saint-Germain have suffered from the effects of that in the Champions League. Their dominance in France has been so unrelenting that it doesn't provide a good launch-pad for success in Europe.

So you can see why they, for example, would favour more games against their fellow elite. But for the proletariat of football clubs outside the patrician class, UEFA cannot allow that to happen for the good of the game.

Full coverage of the final day of the Premier League season on Sunday’s Off The Ball. We've got exclusive commentary of Liverpool against Wolves with Nathan Murphy and Jon Walters at Anfield, while Stephen Doyle will be at the Amex to see if Manchester City can seal the title against Brighton. Tune in on Sunday.

Subscribe to Off The Ball's YouTube channel for more videos, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for the latest sporting news and content.


Share this article


Read more about

Champions League Football Off The Ball Raf Diallo UEFA

Live: Title

Description

Added to queue
Removed from queue

On Air

Share

Share

Next up in queue

Title
Description
Duration

There are currently no podcasts in the queue

Go to podcasts

On Air

OTB

OTB

Up next

OTB AM

OTB AM

07:00 AM-10:00 AM

Share

OTB AM Repeat

OTB AM Repeat

10:00 AM-12:00 PM

Share

Lancaster Leaders Questions

Lancaster Leaders Questions

12:00 PM-01:00 PM

Share

OTB Gold

OTB Gold

01:00 PM-02:00 PM

Share

Highlights on Off The Ball

Highlights on Off The Ball

02:00 PM-05:00 PM

Share

OTB

OTB

05:00 PM-06:00 PM

Share

OTB Gold

OTB Gold

06:00 PM-07:00 PM

Share

OFF THE BALL

OFF THE BALL

07:00 PM-10:00 PM

Share

00:00:00 / 00:00:00

Share on