This past week has seen FIFA officially hit panic stations. As many as 13 individuals are involved of receiving bribes totalling over €90m – it’s as if we didn’t know this already. UEFA are anything but innocent in all this as they watch along silently and in reality we should all know by now that this is a mere scratch on the surface of a whole wider issue.
The gulf between in Europe’s elite and the rest has never been wider and it is reflected in the scorelines we see each week. Real Madrid this past season has seen them victors by a 4-goal margin in 13 outings – think about that for a moment. In 13 matches they have belted their opposition, that’s not even taking in to account 3-0 victories. My personal favourites are the 8-2 away win against Deportivo La Coruna, the lazy 5-goal hauls against Basel, Elche, Althetic Club, Levante, Rayo Vallecano, Cornella and poor Granada found themselves on the wrong end of a 9-1 smashing. And then there was Ancelotti’s final match as manager before getting the sack which ended in a 7-3 win over Getafe. Reading the above you would be forgiven for thinking Los Blancos won la liga in a canter.
To what do we put this down to? Are individual TV deals to blame? To a degree; yes. The 2014/15 season has seen Real Madrid and Barcelona earn €140m each compared to €48m for Valencia, €42m for Atletico Madrid and €32m each for Seville, Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal.
There is a new collective deal being introduced in Spain, but thanks to legal fine print the two giants will not feel a pinch to their annual revenues until 2022. Shocking? Yes. Surprising? No.
But what I feel has really kicked the game in its figurative balls is something else.
I am well aware that the majority of the demographic who may read this article have known nothing other than its current format, but once upon a time the UEFA Champions League was exclusively for champions. Bizarre – I know. But it’s true. Prior to 1997, European football’s greatest prize was contested by the winners of domestic leagues that previous season in a genuine competition for champions. To which teams that would finish 2nd to 4th or 5th in the league season would enter the second tier, UEFA Cup – an equally enthralling competition which held great interest worldwide. Quite often the star player of the UEFA Cup would be crowned World Player of the Year (Lothar Matthäus - 1991, Roberto Baggio - 1993, Ronaldo - 1997) – What are the chances of Carlos Bacca be named Europe’s top performer after Sevilla’s Europa League triumph this past Thursday?… Or weren’t you aware the match even took place?
But like in all enterprises when there is an opportunity for greedy fat cats to stuff more cash into their already overflowing coffers, they will exploit any and all avenues regardless of the consequences it has on the future of our game.
Post 1997, UEFA decided to extend the tournament to accommodate more of the more powerful clubs but exactly what business do Liverpool, Dortmund and Roma have participating when they are champions of nothing?
Extending the competitions has only served to consolidate power in the elite, further tightening their dictatorial dominance and crippling all others who can’t keep up. Parma were a powerhouse of a club in the 90s - their 1999 side who lifted the UEFA Cup featured (past and future) 4x World Cup Winners, 5x Runners-ups, Veron and Crespo – are now on the verge of extinction.
The 90’s had witnessed Ajax reach back to back finals, Panathinaikos and Nantes making the Semi-finals in 1996 and Dynamo Kiev reaching the Quarters in 1998.
Flash forward to today: who can foresee a future winner that isn’t from Spain, England, Germany and Italy (to an even lesser extent)? Even PSG and Monaco with multi-billionaire owners are light-years off the pace. It’s a race that is sadly getting really predictable.
Furthermore, such is that lack of commercial interest that is the Europa League – A vain attempt of rebranding the competition – is that clubs rotate their squads essentially forfeiting the competition, prioritising the league in an attempt to claim a place in the promise land that is the Champions League. It does not take a genius to realise that this current model is unsustainable.
What would world football look like if the earlier model was still present today?
Next season, we would see an actual Champions League featuring; Chelsea, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern, PSG, Porto as well PSV, Olympiakos, Galatasaray and the winners of every other league who would still have great teams had they not been forced out into football obscurity.
And are we supposed to believe there wouldn’t be commercial interest and prestige in a “second tier” competition that had the following participants; Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Atletico, Valencia, Sevilla, Villareal, Roma, Lazio, Napoli, Fiorentina, Genoa, (notice the absence of Milan and Inter), Wolfsburg, Monchengladbach, Leverkusen, Augsburg, Schalke, (Not even Dortmund), Lyon, Monaco, Marseille, Bordeaux, Ajax, AZ, Feyenord and the rest.
The outcome would have seen wealth distributed wider and deeper across the footballing globe, and the game growing collectively and genuine competitiveness across every European nation - instead of a handful of teams pissing over their opponents (don’t be mistaken, that’s what a 9-1 victory means).
These may seem like the thoughts of an idealist, but I know how the world operates. UEFA wanted to generate more revenue but there were better ways to go about it. They were just too shortsighted to see the alternatives.
Essentially UEFA opened up places in the Champions League, maintained the same amount of teams in the UEFA Cup and merged it with the Cup-Winner’s Cup.
The better solution to maximize profit would have been to merge the Champions League and the Cup-Winner’s Cup. Why?
This would see the best 2 participants of each country (League and Cup winners), thus remaining true to its name, while allowing enough teams to enter in order to maximize the amount of games and subsequent TV revenue, at the same token creating genuine importance and commercial value around the domestic cup competitions - tournaments that are otherwise insignificant in modern football despite their long histories.
A model such as this would allow mid-table teams profit enormously from entertaining the likes of Arsenal, Manchester Unite, Liverpool, Lazio, Roma, Napoli, Fiorentina, Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico Madrid.
Whilst I am fully aware that employing this model today wouldn’t have the same effectiveness as it would have had it been made in the 90s - and otherwise be met with resistance, but as every season ticks over the chances of football maintaining its competitiveness drop.