The proposed restructuring of the Champions League, which emerged from UEFA’s strategy council on Monday and will probably be approved by the executive committee later this month, has been perceived as a significant setback for Michel Platini, the man elected as UEFA president in January.
Platini campaigned for the presidency on a platform of opening up the Champions League to clubs from less powerful footballing nations. He came up with proposals to hold two separate qualifying competitions. The first route to qualification would have been a knockout competition amongst the domestic cup winners from the 16 top associations. Those clubs would be battling for four Champions League places. The second route would have the domestic champions from the bottom 40 nations playing each other for six Champions League spots.
Both the cup winners idea and the proposal to hold two separate qualifying competitions were strongly opposed by the continent’s top clubs and leagues. Instead the top European leagues have even more influence then before. It has been recommended that from the start of the 2009-10 season and onward that the top three clubs from the English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A be given automatic entry into the group stage, which is an increase from the two that are granted automatic entry at present.
The strategy council did agree in principle to Platini’s wish of having teams from a wider range of nations involved in the competition proper. From the start of the 2009-10 season, six group places will be taken by the league winners from Europe’s 40 smallest countries. A proposal to to move the Champions League final from a Wednesday evening to Saturday in order to attract younger audience has also been dropped from consideration.
The G-14 consortium of top European clubs were threatening, as they’ve done in the past, to breakaway from UEFA and form their own European Super League if Platini had forced through his reforms. By agreeing to back down on his reforms Platini has averted the threat of a major rebellion but at what cost?
I will admit that I supported Platini’s idea of opening the competition up and making it more of a true Champions League. To me, a Champions League should include domestic and cup champions not teams that finish fourth domestically. I’m disappointed that once again the G-14 has thrown its weight about and we are likely to see even more of a wealth gap developing
between the G-14 clubs and the rest of European club football.