Plan to exclude smaller clubs from European Cup would remove all sense of competition

icon champsleague1024 February ~ Dynamo Kiev have reached the semi-finals of both the Champions League and the old European Cup. Their billionaire opponents in tonight’s last 16 first leg, Manchester City, could eventually get there this season or next. After the famous exploits of United, this would make Manchester the second city in England, after London (Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea) to have more than one club ever reach the last four of the continent’s premier competition.

Everton, Birmingham City and Notts County can still dream of making theirs England’s third such conurbation. However, even the most powerful Ukrainian clubs such as Dynamo, Dnipro and Shakhtar Donetsk may soon find it impossible. With the big five domestic leagues threatening to block everyone else’s entry into the Champions League, it’s time the other 49 UEFA associations brushed up on their trivia.

Entering its seventh decade, the European Cup has been won by 22 clubs. Few cities have had more than one ever reach the semi-finals. And, by way of a convoluted quiz question, ask your friends the only country to have two such locations. England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France are educated guesses. Earlier this month Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge suggested, in his role as chairman of the European Clubs Association (ECA), that the Champions League should perhaps consist solely of clubs from these five countries.

This confirmed the old G14 cartel, dissolved in 2008, is alive and well within the ECA. And it warned UEFA that the richest clubs think domestic league placings and qualifying rounds too unreliable a route into Europe’s elite competition. Manchester United and Milan have in recent seasons – like Chelsea right now – finished outside their national top four. Rummenigge and his ilk can’t have this. After all, these are past European champions – the historic greats television apparently love most.

The answer to that long-winded trivia question is Scotland. Dundee and Glasgow: Dundee FC lost to Milan in the 1962-63 European Cup semis, Dundee United to Roma in 1983-84; Celtic, of course, won the European Cup in 1967, were runners-up in 1970 and lost in the semis of 1971-72 and 1973-74 while Rangers, who suffered a record 12-4 aggregate semi-final defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in 1959-60 were also a goal away from the final in 1992-93, the first Champions League.

Yes, it’s a nationalistic footballing boast. Add Hibernian’s defeat by Stade de Reims in the inaugural competition of 1955-56 and Scotland – tiny Scotland – has provided five different semi-finalists in the European Cup. But it’s also a historical coefficient. And, as such, an argument anyone outside Europe’s top five domestic leagues can use against the exclusion of nations with smaller TV audiences.

Of those 22 historic champions of Europe, three are Dutch, two Portuguese and there’s one each from Scotland, Serbia and Romania. Over a third of the names on the trophy have come from outside the “big five” countries. France has only provided one European champion – and Marseille weren’t allowed to defend their 1993 title because of domestic match fixing.  

Norway and Denmark have provided no European finalists, ever. Yet this season Molde, from the former, topped a Europa League group featuring Champions League regulars Fenerbahce, Ajax and Celtic; Danes FC Midtjylland defeated Manchester United in last week’s Europa League last 32 first leg. Rather than glitches to be ironed out, victorious minnows and the vagaries of history constitute competition itself.

Rummenigge should note every European competition from 1955 to 1960 was won by Real Madrid or Barcelona, the pair who’ve shared five of the last ten Champions Leagues including the two most recent. Get rid of everyone smaller and Bayern Munich could soon be the unwanted surplus. To Spain’s big two, the entire planet is mere filler. Alex Anderson

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