Thursday, November 29, 2012

UEFA to force-feed the Golden Goose

The President of UEFA, Michel Platini, has hinted that the confederation is considering dropping the Europa League competition altogether in favour of an expanded Champions League. The move, mooted for some time between 2015 and 2018, would see the unpopular continental second-tier system removed as and football's big money spinner double in size to 64 teams.

Platini has proved somewhat of an egalitarian leader: throughout his presidency, he has championed the expansion of the UEFA European Championships (the Euros) to 32 teams – or over 60 percent of the continent represented. Should the Europa League actually be canned, the Golden Goose Champions League credibility will be damaged: removing exclusivity from anything makes it far more commonplace.

The simple laws of physics state that increasing an object's size doesn't necessarily increase its impact – in fact, often it has the opposite effect.

That's not to say that the Europa League is great, because it really isn't. One of the principal failings of the Europa League has simply been the effort it demands, especially when players must front up in local leagues two days after lengthy trips abroad. Bigger clubs – especially in fixture-full England – have been known to simply send reserve sides overseas, sacrificing the competition for the sake of league position.

Rather than removing the Europa League or expanding the Champions League (which can't possibly hope to bring in more money now that ostensible top clubs are admitted almost by default), a better solution may be to simply resurrect the old UEFA Cup – a true home-and-away cup competition requiring less travel, less meaningless Thursday night encounters and each club having a true puncher's chance of advancing to the next round.

Think about it: Armenian champions Neftchi Baku look set to complete their Europa League experience this season with two points from a possible eighteen, both from draws with Serbian side Partizan Belgrade. The highlight of their continental football this season will almost certainly be a trip to the San Siro to play Inter Milan – in a reinstated UEFA Cup, the players retain their highlight and even have a chance at pulling off the unbelieveable.

A return to a continental cup competition is unlikely to proceed – the extra home dates afforded by a mini-league are simply too valuable for administrators and owners to give up. However, the romance afforded by smaller clubs taking on big money earners would certainly be hard to ignore. It's these realities which make a return to a Cup competition unlikely at best. But we can still hope.

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