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Champions League Shake-Up: When Seventh Place Made You a Champion

by Jack Hussey

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Michel Platini UEFA

Money changes everything.

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Judging from the social media sphere, Michel Platini’s announcement that UEFA are considering revising their elite Champions League’ competition has been met with a mixed reaction.

Under the proposed new format, the Europa league would cease to exist, replaced instead by a single, 64 team competition united under the ‘Champions League’ banner.

The questions this raises regarding the devaluation of the supposed ‘Champions’ competition, and disservice paid to the Europa League by its dismantling, definitely hold some weight.

For the old romantics, the room for sentimentality in the money driven landscape of top flight football, is diminished by the day.

Should the proposals for the ‘Super League’ come to pass, naysayers will likely question the value of an ‘elite’ European competition that could, in theory, be won by a team that finished 7th in their domestic league.

Although the potential to see how Lionel Messi performs in the classic, cold midweek fixture in Stoke, is tempting, it does take some of the punch out of the ‘Champions’ aspect of the ‘Champions League’ moniker.

You could argue that if Stoke City were to finish 7th, qualify for the Champions League and ultimately win it, they would deserve full plaudit, no matter their stature.

However, considering the legions of those who have accused Chelsea of ‘grinding’ their way to an ‘undeserved’ title last season, it seems that the manner in which it’s won and not just winning it is what truly makes a champion in the eyes of the masses.

With this in mind, pinning hope on the Potters not to ‘play rugby’, would likely require equal faith as to believing that they could actually win the competition in the first place.

It’s no bold assertion to make, that attempting to deceive fans into believing the competition is worthy of the name ‘Champions’ league, even in its current form, is tenuous. Under the new proposal, the title would be nothing short of farcical.

Reverting to the (insert sponsor’s name here) European Cup, could be much easier for all involved, especially without the pesky Fairs-Uefa-Europa-ITV 4 cup hanging around confusing things.

When considering the fate of Europe’s little brother competition, it wouldn’t be for the first time that UEFA have put the so called wooden spoon trophy out to pasture. After all it was the dissolution of the Fairs cup that led to the birth of the UEFA cup in the first place.

The decision to wipe the Europa league from existence would prove a bitter pill to swallow, not only for the supporters of clubs who have won the competition, but also another nail in the coffin for sentiment.

Make no mistake, the decision to expand the Champions League is one motivated by money. The increased revenue from television rights, attendance and sponsorship will be of benefit to UEFA and to the clubs involved.

With the media spotlight focused firmly upon Tuesday and Wednesday weeknights, the prestige of the Europa cup has suffered drastically. Add to this the quite frankly obscene decision to welcome the Champions League stragglers into the second round, and one begins to understand why many consider it to be a ‘Mickey Mouse’ trophy.

It’s this same aura of derision that now sees a large number of clubs treat the competition as nothing more than an unwelcome distraction. Fielding under strength teams, to avoid fatigue and potential injury has become commonplace.

The decline of Europe’s secondary competition is firmly in the hands of UEFA themselves. In the past they’ve tried posturing and threatening reprimand on those seen to be fielding weakened sides, but you can only assume that even Mr. Platini realizes the hypocrisy in chastising others for placing as little value in the competition as UEFA themselves seem to have.

In an industry where money speaks loudest, it seems strange that UEFA would not seek to maximise profit from all possible avenues. It wouldn’t take a gargantuan change to drastically improve the Europa League either.

The most appealing way to do this perhaps would be to see the competition revert back to a knockout format, removing the incorporation of the Champions League drop outs and most importantly, providing the winner with a place in the next season’s Champions League.

It’s very hard to imagine that there would be any difficulty implementing these changes, and the effect that it could have on rejuvenating the competition would undoubtedly be immense.

Given the current state of the Europa league, the prospect of an extended Champions League must be a tantalising prospect for clubs all across Europe.

With the riches that Champions League football provides more evenly distributed, coupled with the lure that qualification adds to a club when trying to procure their latest ‘superstar’, the scheme would hopefully help to close the gap between the top clubs and the chasing pack.

Using the Premiership as an example, the failure to qualify for the Champions League has proved detrimental to clubs such as Aston Villa and Tottenham when trying to hang onto their prized assets, thus creating a continuous circle of transition for the two teams.

It feels wrong to place such emphasis upon one tournament as a marker of success, Arsenal as a prime example of this, despite having continually qualified for the Champions League, have had no silverware to brag about in almost a decade.

This touches on a much bigger issue which is currently tearing the footballing community in half, whether success should now be measured by what’s happening in the boardroom or by the club’s actions on the pitch.

Only in a system where profits usurp the lure of the club’s name etched onto a trophy, can a seventh place league finish be considered a success.

How would I address the issue?

Make the Champions League just that, granting entry to league Champions only. We once again have an elite competition, and an added incentive for clubs to truly taste domestic success.

Revitalise the Europa League, with only the very top clubs contesting the Champions League, the Europa League would once again gain added prestige. Awarding positions to clubs finishing 2nd through to 5th and setting out the tournament in a fashion similar to how the Champions League is now.

Bring back the Cup Winners Cup, to avoid congestion in the new look Europa, cup winners should once again be rewarded with entrance into the resurrected competition.

This is of course pure fantasy, and no more likely to happen than I am to wake up and resemble Ryan Gosling (I’m even better looking fyi).

It’s never going to be popular for purists who value the integrity and honour of knowing you’ve emerged victorious by surpassing the cream of the crop, but for football clubs that are now more of business than ever before, the extension of the Champions League makes the most sense.

Over to you Mr. Platini.

You can read more from Jack Hussey at Really Like Football and why not follow him on Twitter @rlfball

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