Reports have emerged this week (the Sun, Mirror) that UEFA are considering changes to the format of the Champions League. The changes being proposed by some of football’s true powerhouses, to ensure that they forever remain among Europe’s elite, are likely to cause outrage if it should go ahead.
Big Guns Only, Please
There are very few people who watch the Premier League that won’t have been impressed by what Leicester City have achieved so far this campaign. Tipped as relegation candidates after staying up by the skin of their teeth last season, they currently sit at the top of English football. With that in mind, it would take a brave person to bet against them securing the minimum of a top four finish, and entry into next season’s UEFA Champions League. But for how long?
The story, which has broken in several national newspapers, is that the directors of several top European clubs are putting together a proposal to UEFA, one which will change the face of European football forever. If the reports are to be believed, the entry into the Champions League will be based not on where a club finishes in their respective league, but their pulling power in the financial market.
If this is true, it would mean that clubs such as Leicester City would never be granted a shot at Europe’s premier competition ever again, regardless of what they achieve on the pitch. So, in effect, a club could win the Premier League and still not qualify for the Champions League – even though champions is exactly what they would be.
How would it work?
No official comment has been made by any representative of UEFA yet, other than that they will review their options every three years. It is believed, however, that European football’s governing body would not be against the idea.
Essentially, the clubs who generate the most worldwide revenue would be granted automatic entry into the competition. This would guarantee a place for high rolling clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool and both of the Milan clubs, all of whom have had periods where they haven’t qualified in recent seasons. It’s also fair to say that none of them, along with Chelsea, are certain of a place in next season’s Champions League. In fact, all of them could realistically miss out on qualification.
According to Forbes, those five clubs alone generated just over $2.2 billion (around £1.5 billion) in revenue last season. They are all a big draw, clubs watched by fans all over the world – the very same fans who watch the Champions League. But United, Milan and Inter didn’t even participate in last season’s competition, a fact which would have hit them in their pockets. And it won’t have been lost on UEFA that without the clubs who can pull in that sort of money, it could leave them vulnerable when negotiating sponsorship deals. They probably won’t like that.
Tottenham have been superb this season, but their yearly revenue doesn’t match that of Liverpool. This would probably see them denied the chance to enter if the competition were to take shape this way, even if they finished ahead of them in the table.
Another possible option is the resurrection of the idea of a European Super League, which has been bandied around since the Champions League became open to second, third and fourth placed teams. Again, there is no official comment, but it has long been the belief of many a football fan that UEFA would love to implement this, and will do eventually.
While it seems a logical solution from a business standpoint, it’s a very unfair one for clubs like Leicester City, and any who harbour hopes of emulating them. If only certain personnel are invited to dine at the top table, what can their fans possibly have to dream about? What the Foxes have done this season has given hope to fans of almost every club in England. Given that Leicester were in the third tier of English football in 2008 – 09, they will all be thinking “if they can do it, why can’t we?”
The Rich Get Richer
This proposed change is just the sort of thing that would pull people away from supporting clubs like Leicester City, even more than they do now. It’s already got to the point where some see qualifying for the Champions League as more important than winning trophies.
Success breeds hangers-on, and there is no doubt that each of the top ten earners in world football have a multitude of fans who only support them because of their success, and have no real or local attachment to the club. How many more would follow if this new format was given the green light? They would take their money, and spend it where the best players are. This would mean that attendances, and revenue, would soon dwindle at the so-called “unfashionable” clubs. In the meantime, the already wealthy elite clubs would line their pockets even further.
Liverpool, Manchester United and Milan have all had periods in their history where they have dominated their domestic game for around a decade or longer. All of them have won the Champions League in the 21st Century. Nobody handed this success to them, they worked for it. They may have spent plenty of money in the process, certainly in recent years, but they succeeded through talent, hard work and determination – the real values of any truly great club. These new proposals make a mockery of all that.
If ever proof was needed that some clubs have a natural talent for money making, look at the deals that Ed Woodward pulled off for Manchester United, even without Champions League football. With Chevrolet and Adidas, they secured the biggest kit supplier and sponsorship deals in football history. With that kind of pulling power, who do you think UEFA would rather was in their top competition, United or Leicester?
All fans of teams such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Milan want to be in the Champions League, but not like this.