UEFA's 'fixes' for European football are broken

Posted by Iain Macintosh

Philippe Woods/UEFA/Getty ImagesMichel Platini's latest bag of bright ideas for European football are, sadly, anything but.

The news that UEFA are considering a dramatic overhaul to their European competitions is fantastic, right up to the moment that you realise UEFA will be handling the changes.

You see, UEFA are not very good at organising competitions. They've messed up the European championships by expanding the excellent 16-team competition into the messy 24-team palaver that even FIFA decided to shelve years ago. They once cobbled together the idea of five-team Europa League groups with each club playing the other only once -- as if home advantage wasn't an issue. They experimented with the only thing worse than one lengthy group stage in the Champions League: two lengthy group stages. No, unless you only judge a competition by how much cash it makes, then UEFA are ... oh.

Under UEFA's leadership, European football is not about competition and entertainment; it's about money and self-interest. It's about perpetuating the financial engorgement of the few at the expense of the many. UEFA's priority is to keep the snouts of the elite in the cash trough for as long as possible in the desperate hope that they won’t run off and form their own league. That's all they hope to achieve with this reshuffle. Entertainment has nothing to do with it. It never has.

Preliminary rounds and seeding are important tools for balancing a competition, but UEFA's use of them stretches credibility. Coefficients are used cynically to keep upstarts in their place, forcing national champions like Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City down while protecting the royalty.

UEFA don't even require teams to be champions to play in the Champions League. That obstacle was removed years ago. If one of the big boys fails to win their domestic league, they'll get through in second or third. If they have a stinking season and come fourth, they'll face a play-off before their coefficient slides them into a relatively straightforward group. Now it seems that you won’t even have to be within sniffing distance of the title race to play a part. You can get there by finishing seventh.

The good news is that this is clearly the end of the Europa League. The continent's secondary competition has never recovered from the rapid and unchecked expansion of the Champions League. Once upon a time, this was arguably the more interesting competition, a rich seam of successful but not-quite-successful-enough teams. Now it's a dingy hostel for sixth-placed ne'er-do-wells and domestic cup chancers. It's bloated beyond recognition, swollen with Champions League failures who drop in to secure another revenue stream when other teams, like Liverpool this year, have already played 10 games.

This is the essence of the problem. There's so much football that it numbs the mind. UEFA overload the calendar, never realising that less is more. Where's the drama in a group stage when you can lose three of six games and still qualify? Chelsea lost to Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus and yet still have a chance of surviving. Manchester City dropped points everywhere and still stayed in contention for five games.

Football is at its best when everything is on the line, when 90 minutes are all that separate you from glory or humiliation. Yet group stages are the antithesis of drama. Next week, 32 teams will play 16 Champions League games, and for what? To decide the identity of just three qualifiers. Three! What’s UEFA's solution? Why, bigger group stages, watered-down quality and a significantly reduced chance of a big team going out, of course! If it weren't so depressing, the lack of vision would be hilarious.

Here's what would make European football awesome. Stop me if you've heard it before. Stage a two-legged knockout competition for all the champions of Europe, throw them into a hat and draw them out at random, setting minnow against minnow and heavyweight against heavyweight. It's a cup to crown the best team in Europe, so call it the European Cup. Then take all the teams who just missed out -- the runners-up, the third-, maybe the fourth-place finishers -- and toss them into another big unseeded two-legged knockout competition. It's a cup for the rest of UEFA, so maybe we call it the UEFA Cup.

If you're feeling particularly frisky and you're eager to reenergise domestic cup competitions, you could have a competition for the winners of those as well, some kind of Cup Winners' Cup. Or hell, just toss them into the UEFA Cup and have a giant free-for-all. Imagine the drama! Imagine the excitement! I'm only surprised that no one has thought of this before ...

Iain Macintosh is the UK Football Correspondent for The New Paper in Singapore and the co-author of "Football Manager Stole My Life" from @backpagepress. You can follow him on Twitter at @iainmacintosh.

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