Berlin (AFP) – From the creation of the first continental club cups in the 1950s to the announcement of a private Super League, European football has been torn between its traditions and the big clubs’ desire for more money.
1955: the launch as a private super league
While there had been cross-border club competitions, such as the pre-war Mitropa Cup, French newspaper L’Equipe kicked off modern European club competition when it suggested the creation of a Champion Clubs’ Cup.
UEFA, the governing body of European football, initially wanted nothing to do with it and were prepared to let the clubs get on with it.
Global governing body FIFA, however, concerned that such a competition would flourish outside its official structures, pushed UEFA to jump on the bandwagon and give its approval.
The European Cup started in the 1955-56 season with clubs from 15 nations and the Saarland, a French protectorate in Germany. The entries did not include a club from England, which turned its nose up at the idea and refused to enter champions Chelsea.
Only seven of the 16 club were reigning national champions.
Some, such as Dutch champions Holland Sport and Scottish champions Aberdeen refused to take part and were replaced by other clubs from their leagues.
In some countries, the national champions were passed over in favour of more famous or better-connected clubs.
The following year, UEFA required each country to send its national champion.
The Champions Cup was quickly joined by the Intercity Fairs Cup, in which cities at first entered combined teams. It became the first European competition with more entries for the big countries as it evolved into the UEFA Cup and then the Europa League.
The Cup Winners Cup was founded in 1960 and lasted until 1999.
1991: More matches
The big clubs first got their way in the early 1990s.
For 1991-1992, UEFA agreed to introduce group stages to guarantee more matches.
In that season, after two knockout rounds, the last eight competed in two groups of four, with the winners, Barcelona and Sampdoria, qualifying for the final.
The following season, the competition was rebranded the Champions League.
From 1994-1995, the group stage was moved to the beginning of the tournament.
1997: More clubs
The big clubs scored a second victory in 1997 when runners up from nine of the biggest leagues were allowed to enter.
In 1999, up to four clubs were allowed from each country – in the first season Italy, Germany and Spain were the beneficiaries – and a second group phase was introduced for the round of 16.
That increased the number of matches and, therefore, revenue. It also reduced the risk of giant-killing upsets, but the predictability and meaningless matches late in the group stages also drained much of the drama.
The second group phase was abandoned in the 2002-2003 season but the first group phase was kept to weed out the real minnows while guaranteeing qualifiers at least six games.
2020: The ‘Super’ League
Despite the tremendous popularity of the competition, the big clubs forever want more.
Their solution is a closed or semi-closed European league, the ‘Super League’.
The powerful European Club Association, dominated by the biggest clubs, was the first to brandish the threat.
That pressure prompted UEFA to come up with the proposed Champions League reform this week, with an initial phase of 36 clubs each playing 10 matches against different opponents.
While the majority of the ECA’s 200 or so member and associate clubs are happy with the plan, 12, six from England and three each from Spain and Italy, have threatened to secede.
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