THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

22 March ~ Zibi Boniek, the former Juventus and Roma player, predicted recently that soon there will be only one European club competition. Speaking on Italian TV, Boniek claimed that UEFA president Michel Platini will try to enlarge the Champions League after 2015, when the current TV deal runs out. There would be 64 clubs (after preliminary rounds) in 16 groups, with the 32 survivors playing in the knock-out phase. Boniek was reacting to worries expressed by Milan's Adriano Galliani that Italy are losing ranking points because of their clubs' poor performances in the Europa League. Galliani thinks there should be separate ranking points for the two competitions. Boniek suggested that soon it may not matter.

Having just one competition would be a retrograde step that would put European football even further into the possession of the elite. If there are to be changes in 2015, they should include the reintroduction of the Cup-Winners Cup and the retention of the Europa League or UEFA Cup.

These competitions should not try to ape the Champions League. Instead they should revert to the original concept of European football and be straight knock-out competitions from the start. Clubs hate the Europa League as it forces them to play six group matches but they are not rewarded with anything like the income that the Champions League generates. UEFA should also move away from playing games on Thursday nights.

The Cup-Winners Cup should be reintroduced because it rewards teams that have actually won something. It should not be open to the losing finalists when the winners are also in the Champions League. As for the Europa League, maybe it should be for the highest-placed non-Champions League clubs, whose facilities meet UEFA criteria and actually want to take part.

The clubs would have to promise to take the competition seriously and field their strongest available sides. The cups could be incentivised by giving the winners – or finalists – admission to the next season's Champions League. Teams that do not field their best sides could be punished by having their European licence withdrawn.

It is difficult to know whether there are enough midweek dates to do this, but if it were possible the two lesser competitions should not be played in the same weeks as the Champions League. This might mean that the Europa League could be played on Tuesdays and the Cup-Winners Cup on Wednesdays. If there are not enough midweek slots to fit in two-legged ties, they could adopt the FA Cup format. Home advantage would be given to the team first out of the hat but gate receipts should be shared equally between the two clubs.

An even more radical solution might be for UEFA to insist that by 2015 no country’s top division should consist of more than 18 clubs. With some countries now having 20 clubs in the top division, this would free up four dates for European matches, which could be played in midweek or even at weekends, with games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.

In its heyday European club football in all its forms was seen as a break from the bread and butter of league matches and could produce nights of high drama. Those of us who were there will never forget Atalanta’s Cup-Winners Cup semi-final against Mechelen, the unfashionable Belgian club, in 1988. Should we not be asking UEFA to at least try to recreate some of that magic? Or have TV and its money killed European football for good? Richard Mason

Comments (19)
Comment by markrpoole 2012-03-22 12:24:37

I agree entirely (well, apart from limiting leagues to 18 teams). I'd also say that neither the Cup Winners' Cup nor the UEFA Cup should be seeded. But then I don't think anything should be seeded...

Comment by t.j.vickerman 2012-03-22 12:24:51

The current Europa League is a horrible hybrid with a format dictated by modern football clubs' need to have a safety net and minimum number of fixtures.

I don't believe a relaunched Cup Winners' Cup is the answer. The current Champions League could be reduced to a maximum of two clubs (ideally one) from each country (as I believe it was for a couple of seasons in the late 90s) with no Champions League losers allowed into the UEFA Cup. I'd like to see a European FA Cup style tournament, unseeded and only one leg.

I think it'd be an excellent tournament and would have its own character, plus the participants would be of higher quality than at present. But having an exciting football tournaments plays second fiddle to guaranteeing revenue streams in top level football now.

Comment by ooh aah 2012-03-22 14:13:21

Yeah the CL should be 16 teams only, the group stage has usually been pretty predictable since it was enlarged to 32 teams, and it doesn't benefit teams from smaller leagues, most of them lose out to 3rd and 4th place teams from the big leagues.

Comment by ooh aah 2012-03-22 14:17:43

'Teams that do not field their best sides could be punished by having their European licence withdrawn.'

Disagree with this though. The days of a clearly defined best 11 are long gone, who decides what Manchester United's best team is? I support the team and I couldn't tell you

Comment by Pietro Paolo Virdis 2012-03-22 14:39:45

Yes, I was wondering about that to.
Would there be a seeding of clubs, and then each individual player to decide what the best side is?

Comment by ingoldale 2012-03-22 14:50:36

There are some good points here. I believe the CL should return to straight two legged knock-out for the Champions; if Real draw Barry Town so be it - it's a great day for Barry and an unlikely but possible upset on the cards. If Barca draw Man Utd in the 1st rund unlucky, that's cup football.

The point I don't like is forcing leagues to drop down to 18 teams. Teams involved in European competition forget 70-80% of the division they represent in Europe aren't involved in European club football and couldn't really give two hoots about the desires of the illustrious few.

A return to he original format is the only way to bring back he magic because that is cup football. Anything is else is a pursuit of what it currently is - more money for the rich and famous.

Comment by geobra 2012-03-22 15:03:19

Of course the 'what is your best team?' question is subjective. Up to a point.

But can anyone deny that Redknapp did not field anything like his best side in the Europa League when several of those used in that competition have gone out on loan? Especially when he made it quite clear that he regarded Europe's second club competition as a chore he could do without. Fielding their best team, Spurs would surely have walked through their group.

As for Manchester United, if Rooney is fit and he's not playing, it's not their best team. Same with Messi and Barcelona, Ronaldo and Real Madrid. In other words one may dispute what is a team's best eleven, but not the fact that certain players will always be in it.

Having said that, I'm sure that nobody would argue with a team resting players if, say, they've already won the away leg 5-0. What needs to be avoided is the kind of cynical thinking on the part of some clubs that is an insult to the competition and to the fans, especially those who travel to away matches.

I think that the idea of an unseeded one leg tournament is excellent, though the concept is unfortunately alien to some European countries.

Comment by JimDavis 2012-03-22 15:53:13

Just give the winner of the Europa League automatic entry into next seasons Champions League, as Europa League Champions. Then watch them all take is seriously.

Comment by trickydicky 2012-03-22 16:45:09

I love your sentiment, but this will never happen, Boniek's idea, unfortunately is the more likely. In the late 80's/early 90's Berlusconi, in his Milan owning, pre Italian PM days, whinged that the format of the European Cup meant that big clubs, such as his own, ran the risk of being out of Europe by October, thus missing out on a potential season long money maker. In response to this, UEFA met them half way and arranged the 'Champions League, with group stages to guarantee teams 6 games. While it maintained the 'Champions only' rule, up until 1996 or so I think, it was still acceptable. It wasn't enough for the big clubs though, they threatened to form a Super League and UEFA literally sh!t themselves, allowed every man and his dog into the Champions League, sacked off the cup -winners-cup and reduced the UEFA Cup to being only for mid-table make weights and eastern European clubs massively handicapped by ludicrous seeding rules.

In an ideal world the 'Champions League' would be for the top 2 of most countries, the champions only of the very smallest countries. The UEFA cup could be for the next 2, and the Cup-winners-cup could be brought back for, well, cup winners. And seeding would be sacked off entirely. To make this viable, instead of banning teams who couldn't be bothered, UEFA could redistribute the prize money so that although the UEFA cup would carry less prize money, it could be comparable to the Champions League enough so that teams wanted to tae part and wanted to win. This may require UEFA to subsidise the prize money for a while, but as the competition will have 3rd and 4th from top leagues, well supported sides like Arsenal, Chelsea, Roma, Juve, Valencia, big German clubs, well supported Russian clubs etc would be in it, and it would eventually attract high viewing figures and sponsorship to match. The Cup-winners-cup should be straight knock out, like domestic cups, the cup winners of every UEFA country, unseeded, off you go. The prize money could be similar to the Champions League, and the winner could get a spot in it next year. Again, it may require a bit of subsidisation, but if UEFA actually backed it, rather than leaving it to rot it could be a success in its own right.

It will never happen though, Sandro Rossell of Barca not long ago was on about sacking off domestic leagues entirely, it would never be accepted amd UEFA would never have the balls to face them off.

Comment by Harbinger of Hope 2012-03-22 17:43:59

There is a much easier way to make clubs take the Europa League more seriously. It is to narrow the gulf in prize money between the Champions League and the Europa League. Money rules everything. It is the same reason clubs don't take the domestic cups seriously any more. A couple of places higher in the Premier League pays out nearly as much as a good cup run.

I do agree however, that trying to make the Europa League and the Champions League exactly the same is stupid. They should put the UEFA Cup back how it was. Two-legged knockout. End of Story.

Comment by t.j.vickerman 2012-03-23 00:50:16

There's an interesting article in the latest issue of The Blizzard on this very theme. Raises many similar issues to this post.

Comment by Sheds 2012-03-23 10:38:53

I agree that the formats need changing but I seem to remember that the reason the Cup Winners Cup was canned was because increasingly the winners would have qualified for the Champions League and invariably so had the runners up, leaving a semi-finalist to get the place. In order for the Cup Winners Cup to become a competition for cup winners you would have to reform the Champions League first and Europe's dominant clubs just aren't going to accept that.

Comment by geobra 2012-03-23 12:47:16

Make it a competition for cup winners who haven't qualified for the Champions League. In England it might make some middle-ranking teams take the FA Cup a bit more seriously again. The number of entrants would vary from year to year, but that doesn't seem a big problem.

Comment by Dalef65 2012-03-23 18:22:58

Sheds said everything that I was going to say......

The ECWC was becoming a farce in the late 90s,precisely because most of the teams that would have been in it,were qualifying for the Champions League.....rendering the Cup-winners-cup meaningless

Its easy to simply say "lets bring back the Cup-winners-cup",but exactly how does the author propose squaring this circle...?

If you then made it a competition for those that havent qualified for the CL, it would inevitably be seen as a mickey mouse competition.
How would you make clubs take it more seriously than clubs currently take the Europa League...?

Personally I have to say (albeit regretably) I think the ECWC is dead for ever...
Although i have to say I do agree with most of the other points made...

Comment by geobra 2012-03-23 19:12:13

The fact that many cup winners had also qualified for the Champions League is more an indictment of the (non)Champions League than it is of the Cup Winners Cup. And once the Champions League was no longer only for champions it was also probably inevitable.

So a revamped Cup Winners Cup would be a 'mickey mouse' competition. If my team was in it, I would be delighted and frankly I wouldn't care what others thought. I think there are lots of fans like me who support smallish clubs who would regard a competition with lots of clubs of a similar stature as an antidote to the bloated cash cow of the Champions League. It might even restore some sanity to the game, and lead to some very interesting new friendships being formed as clubs who'd maybe never heard of each other before met.

And what's wrong with that? Isn't it part of what European football should be all about?

Comment by geobra 2012-03-23 20:12:08

If a Cup Winners Cup with lots of non cup winners was meaningless isn't the same true of a Champions League full of non champions? Only three of the last eight this season won their country's title in 2011.

Comment by Steve Jinman 2012-03-24 07:24:52

There are two major problems with the Europa League: the group stage and the entry of third placed teams from the Champions League group stage.
Simple answer: abolish the group stage and any transfer of clubs from the Champions League.
Make it a straight knockout all the way through.
Always thought the Cup Winners Cup was the weakest of the three European Competitions and would not welcome its return.

Comment by danielmak 2012-03-25 05:53:51

A year back the BBC World Football 30-minute documentary/news podcast featured a section on the Europa League. Dave Farrar, who I find to be one of the brightest announcers going, hosted this section. He asked some UEFA leader about much of what was mentioned previously (e.g., the group stage that mimics the CL and the 3rd place team dropping down). I'm sure nobody will be surprised to hear that both decisions are about TV revenues and money more generally. I think the old groups in the UEFA Cup were a disaster with larger groups and no home and away format. So I prefer what we see now compared to the old messed up group stage. I hate the fact that 3rd place teams drop down even when that means one of my favorite sides gets to play longer in Europe (e.g., Valencia this season). And I agree with a previous post that if the EL paid more money then more sides would take it seriously. But maybe another move would be to not let teams return for 1-2 years if they don't take it seriously and field weakend sides. Of course it is important to note that this really seems to apply to English sides only since other nations seem to have no problem on this front.

Amidst all the griping about the CL and EL, I will say that I enjoy both competitions. Group winners might be mostly predictable, but not always (e.g., United and City this season). Moreover, I can't help but laugh that it was only 2 years ago when people were starting to talk about EPL money ruining European club cups, yet the past couple years have shown that that dominance was short lived. These things go in waves. One need only look at the teams remaining in the CL and EL to see that Spain and Germany are doing very well. In 3-5 years, the story will change.

Comment by PRB 2012-03-29 16:35:07

I quite like the idea of one big competition for 4-5 teams from each country (the top 2 plus the 2 cup winners (would put better emphasis on the League cup again)), though I'd love to see it as a straight unseeded knockout. That'll never happen though.

No interest however in seeing the Cup Winners Cup added back in. Have little interest in the Europa league as it is. Back in its hayday the Uefa Cup was played by teams that came 2nd, 3rd, 4th in the league, that's not the case anymore.

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