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Is the Champions League soon to be the new European Super League?

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…there is little in nature which is more voracious than a plague of locusts*…perhaps UEFA comes close

From the beginning of the European league seasons in 2024, the Champions League format has substantive changes planned by UEFA. The new format will have little connection with domestic leagues, and is all about performances within the Champions League and Europa League and will, eventually, completely negate the need for teams to finish in the top positions of their respective domestic leagues.

Indeed, there are plans afoot to introduce another European trophy to give clubs in some of the less competitive leagues (Croatia, Bosnia, Scotland and Macedonia for example) access to European competition. The changes will be announced in full in 2020 so broadcasters can decide what they will bid for and how much they will bid.

Five of the best Champions League goals – EVER!

Does anyone see where this is going?

The Premier League is likely to be one of (if not the) biggest losers in television rights money if and when the new system is introduced. The Premier League will no doubt have four clubs which will be taking part, whereas Germany, Spain, Italy and France will likely have two, three or four clubs from their top divisions.

And here is the crux – clubs such as AC Milan, Arsenal and Ajax, for example, won’t be there on merit but rather they will be taking part based on PAST performance and the size of the club and its history. Gone will be the need to qualify in domestic leagues, and as these clubs begin earning more from a revamped Champions League format and less from their domestic completion, there will be a clear movement for breakaway, simply because the number of games will increase per season from 2024 as a result of the expanded Champions League format.

Champions League action

The ‘also rans’ will lose out

UEFA is income-led – it cares little about clubs such as Watford, Norwich City, FC Twente, Gronigen, Union Berin, Padderborn, Atalanta or Brescia for example. These are ‘also ran’ clubs which just happen to be in their respective top divisions. The fact that they are there on merit means little if anything to a UEFA hierarchy which treats smaller less well known and/or less well-supported clubs with disdain and contempt.

There is real resentment with UEFA among European football supporters who only too well understand UEFA’s contempt for their clubs. Indeed, the attitude of UEFA’s hierarchy suggests that supporters of clubs across Europe which aren’t as successful as the top clubs across Europe should be grateful that we are allowed to be in the same division.

In the English Premier League the big six as they are referred to – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – understand the financial rewards which would come about with membership of an elite European Super League which precludes relegation.

All it will need is one or two of the big six to jump ship and the rest will follow. If this happens (and there is a serious concern it will happen) then the money flowing in to what is left of the domestic top divisions across Europe will be seriously reduced as a result of hugely reduced TV rights income, with many clubs in the English top division potentially facing a serious black hole in their finances.

The only good thing which may come from this is that IF the big clubs do jump ship and form a European Super League, there will be a level playing field open up in the top divisions of domestic football. This would mean that any club in the top divisions MIGHT just be in with a chance of winning something. At the moment that is almost next to impossible, given the stranglehold the big clubs have on position, power and wealth.

The vacuum which will be created by the loss of big clubs from top divisions in domestic leagues will be filled. There will be a bloodbath initially, but things would settle quite quickly also.

Perhaps the plague of locusts, otherwise known as the big six in the EFL has chomped its way through domestic football and picked it clean and there is now nothing left. If that is the case and there are richer picking elsewhere, seeing them swarm elsewhere might just be a good thing for domestic football in England and also to other European domestic leagues.

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Champions League

Is Football Fair Play actually about fair play?

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FFP was introduced to European football as a concept which was designed to level the playing field between the moneyed clubs in the Premier League and other European leagues (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, AC and Inter Milan etc) and the less well off (Bournemouth, Atlanta, Norwich City, Auxerre etc). It was also introduced to help prevent football clubs from going bankrupt, as well as increasing competition in European football as a whole.

Well-meaning intent

As usual, FFP was introduced with well-meaning intent and was initially aimed at the regular participants of the Champions League. However, like so many ill-thought out schemes and ideas, FFP has been hijacked by the moneyed clubs because it was they who were instrumental in the introduction of FFP in the first place. Like so much in life, it was promoted on the back of well-meaning intentions, but all it does is allow the moneyed clubs to become more so at the expense of clubs with ambition but which are less moneyed.

Protect the Status Quo?

No, not the old rockers, but the existing state of affairs in European football. Michel Platini, the architect of FFP and its introduction wanted to counter the financial doping which had been building in European football. The trouble is, FFP has strict regulations regarding the income and expenditure of clubs, but has nothing written within the FFP to control media rights, money movement in the transfer market, prize money and/or matchday income.

Clubs at the top of their leagues, the clubs which have the most financial clout are able to take out more money and, by extension make more money. A couple of examples are Paris St Germaine and Manchester City – their owners have controlling stakes in the sponsors, so effectively the sponsors are supporting the parent companies of the respective clubs.

Inflated sponsorship deals and contributions to matchday income have skewed the ‘level playing field’ in favour of those who can afford it. No doubt there are other deals in place with other moneyed clubs in Europe, and potential political intervention within countries. It has long been rumoured that Real Madrid and Barcelona have ‘preferred tax status’ and have used their contacts to keep ahead of the game for many years.

Although it may be conjecture, one has to wonder why these two clubs garner such a large income from such a poor league set up, and still manage to pay hideous sums of money in transfer fees and wages to attract the top players, more often than not outbidding the wealthiest clubs throughout Europe.

FFP is a laudable concept but in practice, it is hugely debatable because it certainly gives moneyed clubs an advantage, of that there is no doubt. FFP makes it difficult for smaller clubs because to be profitable is only possible by on-field success. Clubs which used to speculate to accumulate have now had that option taken from them but this is something which the bigger and wealthier clubs do not have to worry about as they can always sell on the odd player at exorbitant cost to offset some of the FFP, or indeed organise an inflated, bloated and somewhat ‘dodgy’ sponsorship deal. It is in effect a vicious circle.

FFP started out with good intentions but it has been hijacked by the clubs with the financial clout to the detriment of clubs without that clout. Only time will tell if FFP is successful but, based on the current situation and UEFA’s position, it looks like FFP will benefit the wealthier clubs and penalise the less well off for many years to come.

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Is football a game of two halves, or a game of two thirds?

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Football is a game of sport played between two teams of 11 players, consisting of two halves of 45 minutes, making up a grand total of 90 minutes per game. Or is it?

Time wasting, niggling fouls and constant dissent

In the modern game, the tactic of time-wasting and niggling fouling has been taken to a level which was never envisaged when the laws of association football were drawn up. Time wasting by teams which are winning the game, especially in the second half of the game often means that the ball is in play for no more than 30 to 35 minutes in the half. Rarely does the referee add on more than a few minutes of added time at the end of each half when it probably should have been 10 or 15 minutes of added time to allow for the blatant time-wasting

It is not unusual for teams to break up play from the first whistle to the last whistle. Although it is a dangerous tactic to use, and sometimes backfires on the perpetrators, it can often be devastating for teams which play a high tempo, high press attacking game. By breaking up the play, teams in Premier League fixtures playing against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, for example, find it difficult to impose their style of play on the game, therefore creating an unfair advantage to the time-wasters.

A poor advert for the game

As a spectacle, time-wasting, niggling fouls and constant arguing with the officials on every decision which goes against the time-wasting team, it is a complete bore-fest for the paying fans. Additionally, it frustrates the fans to such an extent that any enjoyment of the game is sucked out of it. It is not a good advert for the game and really should be addressed by the football authorities.

But what can be done?

The football authorities can do something about the scourge of time-wasting and niggling fouls by introducing a time out for when the ball is out of play. For example, when the referee whistles for a foul, the time on the clock is stopped until the free-kick is taken and the ball is back in play.

The same for corners, goal kicks and other stoppages such as throw-ins and substitutions. How many times does a keeper take the ball from one side of the goal area to the other when taking a goal kick, or a player taking a free-kick mess around with placing the ball or moving the ball from where it had been positioned before taking the kick?

Take the timekeeping element away from the referee and linesmen and place it in the hands of an official timekeeper, so the referee and linesmen are better able to control the game. In so doing, the element of time waiting, niggling fouls and broken up play would be eliminated.

If that was to happen, an official timekeeper who kept a track of when the ball was in and out of play, a game of football may take as long as 100, 110, 120 or more minutes to complete, but at least the time-wasting, cheating antics of today’s crop of players wouldn’t spoil the sporting spectacle and the time-wasters wouldn’t gain an unfair advantage.

My only suggestion is to not hold your breath waiting for the football authorities to do anything about it any time soon.

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Five reasons why Football Financial Fair Play is not a good idea

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The Financial Fair Play regulations (FFP) introduced by UEFA way back in 2011/12 season were introduced as an enforceable method of promoting a sustainable business model within a football framework. The premise was simple in its remit: operate a business model with is organic and sustainable or take the risk of facing sanctions from UEFA, the governing body or football.

The idea was to create a level playing field for clubs which were/are less moneyed and/or work on reduced budgets for whatever reasons. The idea, laudable as it sounded was to allow less advantaged clubs such as Norwich City, Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Brighton and Hove Albion for example, to be able to compete and emulate the elite clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Inter and AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid for example.

However, as laudable as the FFP sounded at the time and has since subsequently been proved, all it turned out to be is an exercise in maintaining the power of the elite clubs of Europe, as mentioned above, at the expense f the smaller, less moneyed but still ambitious clubs.

Here are five real reasons why the new regulations are flawed and biased to the elite clubs.

1: The rich get richer at the expense of the not so rich

The big clubs get bigger, wealthier and less likely to be usurped in the natural competition by smaller, less moneyed clubs. We see it in French Ligue 1, The Bundesliga of Germany, La Liga of Spain and Serie A of Italy, where one or two clubs are dominant to the exclusion of all the rest in their respective league division.

Nouveau riche clubs and clubs with financial backing will still find it almost impossible to break the monopoly of the traditionally wealthy and long-established powerbases of each top league. The power base is increasingly freezing out the potential of smaller, less wealthy clubs to break into the top echelons of the top divisions, and with no-one seemingly able to break their hegemony, a European Super League breakaway becomes more inevitable with each passing season.

2: Cheating the system

Clubs have been informed that they will no longer be able to ‘cheat’ the FPP rules, although that is now being brought in to question. Links between the owners of clubs such as Paris St Germain’s Qatar Investment Authority that owns the club and the 200 or so million Euros paid by the Qatar Tourism Authority (both in bed together) has seen inflated sponsorship deals struck which in effect means the sponsor is sponsoring the same company.

It also invites dodgy deals such as third party ownership of players, thereby enabling a proportion of any transfer fees to be kept off the books. As time goes by, these deals and dodgy practices will only snowball and we all know what happens when a snowball runs down a hill out of control.

3: Less excitement, more boredom, less fan participation

As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, fan participation will potentially be affected. A lot of football fans want to see their team pitting their skills against the best opposition possible. The problem will be that, as the wealthier elites such as PSG, Liverpool, Manchester City, Barcelona et al are winning everything between them, they will demand more of the already ridiculously large TV and broadcast fees, and when the smaller clubs object, it will be an open door for the formation of a European Super League, which is what the big clubs are already touting.

Once that happens it is estimated that the resulting reformation of the top leagues in Europe will see a drop of some 20 to 30 per cent of admission fees as the elites are lost to domestic competition. The resulting reformation will mean hideously reduced TV and broadcast fees because armchair fans around the world only want to watch the elite, and this is one of the driving forces behind FFP which will effectively drive increased revenue to the rich and less to the less moneyed clubs.

4: FFP might just be illegal

Time will tell but the current FFP is being challenged in the European courts by Daniel Striani, the lawyer who famously won the Bosman ruling. The FFP is argued as being ‘restrictive, anti-competitive and a complete breach’ of current European legislation. At the time of writing, there are several legal challenges being made against FFP, as the FFP has the potential to restrict fundamental freedoms such as the free movement of capital and free movement of workers.

English clubs also have the current advantage of what are known as parachute payments and these can’t be offset against FFP calculations, so there is another issue which could become a legal case as time moves on. Time will tell, but at the moment FFP is riddled with issues, arguments and legal challenges. It isn’t going to end with smiles and handshakes all round.

5: The fans will end up paying for FFP?

As FFP is fully implemented and exorbitant player wages (may) start to fall, clubs in the major leagues of Europe are still going to have hideously exorbitant, and are going to have to find a way to fund these so as not to fall foul of FPP.

Guess who they are going to come calling on to bridge that gap. It is you the dear paying customer, the fan who loves going to watch his or her team play week in week out. And of course, like lambs to the slaughter, fans will continue paying – nothing changes there because club owners only see fans as cash cows to be exploited.

In conclusion, ticket prices will have to rise, that is inevitable, fans will be driven away and dwindling crowds on match days will force prices even higher. Combined with reduced revenues from TV and broadcast rights, the only way back is for players and agents to take lees out of the game and give something back, and THAT, my dear reader, is about as likely as catching a gust of wind in a fishing net.

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