By Tony Attwood
It seems that Uefa has decided to join Fifa in the battle of expansion, for as Fifa has been pitching for a world cup every two years, and has taken over the running of the Confederation of African Football, now Uefa, having seen off the threat of the bi-annual world cup and the Super League, has retaliated with its own expansion plans.
It has already had one plan for expansion rejected, which involved having clubs gaining places in the Champions League on the basis of performances across a number of years (thus ensuring that Barcelona, Liverpool etc are still in the League even when in a run of poor seasons (such as Liverpool 2010-2016) when they had not qualified in the normal way – something that would have benefitted Arsenal as the club with the second-longest continuous run in the Champions League.
Now they have come up with another plan. And it seems it will be going ahead in 2024, giving us Super League but with a different name and under the control of Uefa, rather than under the control of the clubs themselves.
The new scheme will start in 2024, and will get rid of the group stages of the Champs League and replace them by a single league of 36 clubs.
What this means is not only more clubs in the League but also more games against other big clubs – again eating into the time set aside for domestic matches but earning ever more from TV rights. So in the group stages clubs will play eight games rather than six. I would suggest that it is a fair bet that after a year or two that will have crept up to ten, and later 12.
It will indeed be the Super League, because clubs will not be entering on merit in terms of last season’s performance, but instead through a complex set of mathematical ratios which (unlike much simpler things such as the league table) can be tweaked to ensure the right clubs get in, even if they had a poor domestic season, the year before.
So starting in 2024 all the teams that get to the league stage will play eight games, each against a different opponent, with four played at home, four away. Initially, the idea was to have ten games, but to get the proposal through this was reduced to eight – although there is every likelihood this will go back to ten in a year or two, with Uefa citing financial pressure from the clubs as the reason for the change.
Football Supporters Europe have been lobbying against this move as it clearly is a different approach to the same aim – expanding the control of Uefa and reducing the importance of the domestic leagues upon which football has been based since 1919 when the Southern League in England gave up its pretensions of being a rival to the Football League, and its clubs started the process of joining the Football League, thus creating the Third Division (South) followed a year later by the Third Division (North).
FSE Executive Director Ronan Evain said in a statement, “For the first time, the position of fans has directly influenced the outcome of a major reform of European club competitions. Although it is not the one we wanted, we avoided the worst-case scenario and effectively challenged other stakeholders.
“We would like to thank each and every fans’ group that took the time to lobby their respective clubs and governing bodies to do better and helped to make a difference.”
The problem is of course that with the operation up and running, clubs will immediately spend the extra money they get, and run up further debts beyond that. Meanwhile, clubs not in the new Super League will drop further behind financially, and if they do manage to get a place in the league will quickly drop out or over-exert themselves financially and then either face ruin or be bought out by another billionaire. It really doesn’t seem to me to be the right way to go.
In fact, one could argue that football in England is already in a lot of trouble in this regard. The clubs in the Championship have often spent vast sums trying to get into the Premier League, and then vast sums more to try and stay there. This has been mitigated to some degree by the success of a different model adopted to varying degrees by clubs like Norwich, Fulham, Bournemouth etc of not spending a fortune on entering the Premier League but instead using the additional income on the club at large, and expecting to go back down, and then with luck come up again.
FSE is congratulating itself on modifying the original proposals, but I rather suspect the juggernaut is still running down the same track and in the long run FSE will have simply held the gate open.
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