By Tony Attwood
As you may have noticed, Uefa has approved changes to the Champions League from the start of the season after next.
A new company is being set up, equally owned 50/50 by Uefa and the European Clubs Assn to run European competitions. This has been done to stop a European breakaway by the top clubs.
What they have (or have not) agreed (depending on which report you read) is wild card entries for clubs who fail to qualify (such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool this season), who would be given a place because of their historical achievements, at the expense of clubs who actually make it happen this season. Because although “top four is not a trophy” as we are regularly told, a lot of former big clubs would rather like it to be.
Some ideas have been ditched such as playing at weekends or elsewhere around the world. But the changes made so far mean that the clubs have agreed not to boycott the Champs League or set up their own rival competition – at least until 2021 at the earliest.
As a result the top four countries stay the top four, and Italy in particular seems to be getting three entrants to the main part of the competition rather than two plus one in the prelimary play off. They get that (despite generally being knocked out in the prelims) because Italy brings in more CL money for TV etc than any other country except England. Everyone has gone along with it because Italy sells views on TV, and that means more money for everyone.
However the percentage of money distributed in prize money goes up. 25% is shared between all qualifiers, 60% as rewards for getting further and further and the rest between associations.
What is good for Arsenal (if Arsenal maintains its record for another two seasons) is that the new merit payment will be awarded based on a system that will track historical performance. Which means that Ajax gets more points than newcomers Leicester and Arsenal and Real Mad get bonus money for always being there.
Meanwhile there is a proposal afoot to invite Celtic and Rangers to join a new five division English league structure starting in 2019/20.
There is also talk of clubs from Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Holland being invited.
Uefa has said “no” to this in the past, but the clubs have retaliated and talked about just leaving Uefa and doing it, so the discussions are back on.
Elsewhere in Europe there are rumours (reported by the Telegraph) of a Balkan League – including Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, Herzegovina, Greece etc.
To the north there is talk of the North Atlantic set-up, including Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Anderlecht, Club Brugge, FC Copenhagen and Malmo, and maybe a couple of Scottish clubs if they don’t get invited to join England.
At the other end of the proposals is the addition of National League clubs to make five English divisions of 20 clubs.
And these are more than just reiterations of old time stories. Shaun Harvey, the EFL chief executive, says Scottish clubs will decide if Rangers and Celtic and Rangers can join the new 5th division at the start of 2019/20, adding,
“One of the simple questions is, if this is to proceed, is where should the teams come from. So the only ones who will decide that are the clubs themselves, so we will see what they say. I don’t want to pre-empt anything.”
But although bringing Rangers and Celtic into the English fold would benefit them (through the chance to progress up the leagues) it would have a damaging effect on Scottish football clubs left behind.
And there is a growing awareness that simply changing things doesn’t always work. The Checkatrade Trophy began this past week with noticeably low crowds including some boycotting by fans because of the involvement of the under 23 teams from the Premier League clubs. Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham and Southampton are all in the trophy, but many others including Arsenal are not. And of course the clubs in the Champions League are also in the under 19s Champions League so they already have commitment there.
So what about the five leagues of 20 clubs. Basically the bottom four of the Championship would move into League One. The bottom eight of League One move into League Two. The bottom 12 of League Two go into League Three and the top eight of the National League would move up to create the new division.
Overall it is a case of tension; tension between the old and the new, the national associations and the notion that multi-national works; the desire to stay the same, or change.
When you look back through footballing history it is amazing how little has changed. We have three points for a win instead of two, and no back passing to the keepers. We have nominally all seater stadia, but lots of people in the lower tiers stand up. We have keepers restricted to five seconds holding the ball, and an offside rule that gets tinkered with a bit. We have a transfer window rather than all the year round transfers except for the very end of the season.
But other than the tinkering much is the same. Uefa rules Euro football, and Fifa the world, and both want to see the national associations remain supreme.
However the pressure change is building up, and when it starts to happen, the floodgates will probably be opened.
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