Rhys Jaggar and Tony Attwood
There are fans of a certain age who can remember Ajax being top dogs in Europe. In fact, that was really the first dominant European side I remember as a boy. Cruyff et al. I wasn’t quite old enough to remember the Lisbon Lions or Feyenoord, but both won the European Cup. Young fans probably wouldn’t know that Club Brugge went to Wembley in 1978 to play in the European Cup Final either.
Although Ajax won again in 1995, there’s a fair question to be asked: ‘are Celtic, Rangers, Feyenoord and Ajax and many more lacking in fans, stadia, expertise and passion worthy of being European Champions?’ And I think the answer is No! And if the variant question: ‘do you think they could do it without a billionaire owner?’ I think the answer in future years, as it stands, must be ‘Sadly, no.’
Why? Simple. Domestic media income simply isn’t enough to allow them to compete with the ‘Big 4 leagues’. That might become 5 if France grow again, but currently, realistically, the Champions League is really about Italy, Spain, England and, to a lesser extent, Germany.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I guess that depends who you are.
If you’re a money man at a top club, it’s a good thing. And if you’re a fan who only cares about your club and that’s Real, Utd, Milan, Arsenal etc, it’s a good thing too.
But is it a good thing for European football if passion slowly dies in some of its hottest hotbeds, due simply to historical accidents of national borders?
I don’t think so. To me, truly being European Champions means a fair fight between all European countries, based on football commitment and expertise, not solely about the money domestic leagues can attract.
So if I were Michel Platini and UEFA, I’d take seriously the thought that allowing smaller, less wealthy countries to realign leagues across national boundaries might be something worth considering right now.
- Scotland/Norway/Sweden/Finland/Denmark/Holland/Belgium? Possibly Portugal too?
- Belarus/Ukraine/Poland/Hungary/Czech Rep/Slovakia/Slovenia/Austria/Switzerland?
There’s probably a better media deal to be had in such a situation. Probably more genuine week-to-week competition to be had in football terms. A chance for fans to go to Europe without necessarily qualifying for UEFA’s Cup competitions. A chance to refresh the Champions League by equipping more clubs more equally for the competition…
The idea was there a couple of years ago and there seemed to be a real interest in it, but UEFA put the lid on the idea, and it died. (UEFA of course want to preserve national identity so they can continue their country against country competitions. FIFA feels the same.)
But there had a been a sudden revival of interest just recently (at least in the UK) because of the position of Scotland. Dominated utterly by two clubs with a big support, but now only one Champions League spot, and that starting with the preliminary rounds. Both Celtic and Rangers performed poorly in Europe this year, and that combined with a better performance from Belgian clubs has meant that Belgium as risen above Scotland in the UEFA tables.
Since by definition only one of Rangers and Celtic can win the league each year, one is going to have to do without the extra cash. And given that a TV deal in Scotland is far less meaningful than in England, this could spell danger. Imagine if either team goes on one of those 9-in-a-row things they have in Scotland, and the other is permanently excluded from Europe, what then?
Add to this the fact that Rangers are already in very serious financial trouble, and the news from Scotland is not good. Celtic may not like Rangers and vice versa, but if either them started to slip away, that would spell utter disaster for Scottish football. You can run a competition with two giants, but not with one.
And let us remember one other thing. The traditional top three in the Dutch league have been Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord. But last season AZ and FC Twente were the top two clubs. If the Dutch had lost its top clubs to a European league that presumably would have removed the meaning of the achievement of AZ and FC Twente.
So it might not be as easy as it looks. Promotion and relegation from the Euro leagues back to their national leagues? Would that solve the problem?
Put another way: is there a solution?
RUMOUR OF THE DAY
Ashley Cole has filed for divorce from the KGB in Fulham. “I thought the club loved me,” said a tearful Cole. When asked about Cheryl he denied having had an affair with anyone of that name. “That’s not Tiger Woods’ wife is it?” he asked, wiping a tear from his eye.
Cole has indicated that he would like to play for Real Madrid in future. When asked if he planned to learn Spanish, the man who has been left back behind his mobile phone so often in his career he’s lost count said, “I can grunt in any language you want mate.”
Ashley Cole will start in goal for England in their friendly against Egypt at Wembley on 3 March. “I want him where I can see him,” said Hench Mann, head of Mrs Cole’s security team. “He will owe my employer £8 trillion once the divorce is settled, and she doesn’t want him spending it on mobile phone calls.”
When Untold Rumours caught up with the leader of England’s 2018 World Cup bid he was smiling like a man who has just pulled off a brilliant PR trick.
“Internationally, people look at our football sex scandals and quite enjoy them. It took me some time to organise the events, but with the help of A Cole and J Terry I got it sorted,” said Andy Pandy, the 2018-bid chief executive. “By far the most important thing is to ensure that no one starts to ask questions about why England employed as its manager a man who has been found guilty of tax evasion in Italy and who is facing further charges at the moment. If they started asking those questions now, we would be in real trouble, given that we don’t even have a clue over who owns some of our clubs while we allow others to be run by gun runners, homophobes and bent lawyers. But thankfully Cole and Terry were very compliant. I don’t think they even noticed they were set up.”
ELSEWHERE, IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Vote now for the biggest prat in English football. The polls are still open.
Arsenal win the league: the start of the new golden era.
Preparing for Arsenal v Sunderland one hundred years ago
The England captain we signed from Kettering Town.
Why did Arsenal move to Highbury, and not somewhere else?
Arsenal in 1910 – the first edition of this book has almost sold out. We will be publishing a second edition shortly, but if you want one of the First Edition copies, you should order now. It is Arsenal in 1910, the complete story as a novel.
- Arsenal has let in one more goal than at this stage last season, and that’s a disaster
- Arsenal continue to make more progress than the rest of the big seven
- Arsenal v Tottenham; the team and some rather jolly recent history
- We are running out of referees, and the reason is the PGMO.
- Arsenal v Tottenham: the key fact the media won’t to tell you – and why they won’t