"Before we declare that Wolverhampton are invincible, let them go to Moscow and Budapest. And there are other internationally renowned clubs: AC Milan and Real Madrid to name but two. A club world championship, or at least a European one – larger, more meaningful and more prestigious than the Mitropa Cup and more original than a competition for national teams – should be launched."
It’s May 9, 2012. About 10.30pm local time in Bucharest. Tottenham captain Ledley King looks embarrassed as he turns away from UEFA president Michel Platini, raises the Europa League trophy not much above chin height and quickly hands it down the line. Around him the Stadionul National is silent except for the noise of television crews packing up, litter being picked and the runners-up heading back down the tunnel – their supporters have already filed out of the ground and Tottenham’s were never here. Some of them have seen the result on the news and some received texts from friends. But who cares?
Steve Menary explains how qualification for the Champions League is becoming a closed shop
Spurs’ appearance in this year’s Champions League qualifiers is the first in four seasons by a team outside of the Premier League’s big four. Since 1994-95 and the start of the group format, just nine English clubs have played in the Champions League. The Premier League is a cash cow but between 1992-93 and 2008-09, Man Utd earned €261 million (£217m) from the Champions League – and that’s just from UEFA. Research from tournament sponsor Mastercard shortly before this year’s final claimed that whoever won would earn €120m in total.
The Premier League recently rejected a proposal to introduce play-offs for Champions League places. David Wangerin explains what even its consideration tells us about the state of the game
You could be forgiven for thinking that the most important thing about English football this season is not who will win the Premier League, but who will finish fourth. To many, it’s a slightly surreal notion and one not easy to reconcile. Have we become jaded by the monotony of the same four teams jousting for English supremacy? Or is the Champions League casting an ever-larger shadow on the domestic game?
Derek Brookman looks at how a Champions League experiment fared (and failed) in the Netherlands
The play-offs were introduced in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 2005-06 season for an initial period of three years, with the intention to extend this if they proved successful. The second- to fifth-placed teams would scrap it out to determine who would be the second Dutch representative in the Champions League (the champions qualified automatically), while the next four sides would contest qualification for the UEFA Cup.
Tom Hunt examines the problems in the first year of Europe's revamped club competition – and how UEFA aren't really helping
When David Moyes reflects on Everton’s inaugural Europa League campaign, it will not only be the feeble 3-0 surrender at Sporting Lisbon that gets his hackles rising. The curious case of the Blues’ 5.45pm kick-off in the first leg of their round of 32 tie against Sporting on February 16 will have left a sour aftertaste too. Moyes was unhappy that Everton were forced into an unusual tea-time start and went so far as to accuse UEFA of “diminishing” their own competition. Not the best publicity for a tournament struggling to convince people of its worth but Moyes, who had consistently fielded his strongest team in it, warranted some sympathy.
Jon Spurling reports on Michel Platini's ambitious plans
“Football is a game before a product, a sport before a market, a show before a business,” said Michel Platini in January. The new UEFA chairman has since claimed that all his proposals – including his suggestion in August to cut the number of Champions League places allocated to Europe’s leading leagues from four to three and his aim that European finals be played on a Saturday afternoon with 75 per cent of allocated tickets going to the finalists’ supporters – are based on “sporting philosophy and not anything financial”. Others don’t share Platini’s altruistic vision.
Small isn't beautiful in the Champions League: the cash from qualification can permanently skew the domestic game in some countries, explains Steve Menary
Has the Champions League become the European super league that the G-14 group of top clubs is pressuring UEFA for? The popular perception is that the same clubs from each country compete every year as cash from the Champions League fuels greater domination of domestic European competitions by a handful of clubs. Yet research shows this is not the case in Switzerland, Sweden, France or even Germany, where a variety of different clubs regularly enter and are competitive in the Champions League. The study ranks nations in terms of domestic variety from the least to the most, with a rating produced by dividing a country’s total amount of Champions League appearances by the number of clubs to appear.
Simon Evans explains why eastern European clubs are staying loyal to UEFA despite being frozen out of the Champions League
Grey-haired sixty-somethings in conservative suits, with small badges on their left lapels, firmly shook hands, slapped backs, kissed one another on the cheeks and greeted each other in Russian. It might have been a scene from any party congress in the past five decades, but this was 1998 and the first-ever meeting of eastern European football associations.
In lights of calls to change the Champions League's format, Simon Evans details the controversial idea of forming a European Super League
“There will be a league formed outside of UEFA with a team from each country, sponsored by that country’s biggest company... a super professional football league like American football, which will attract millions of viewers”
– Silvio Berlusconi, president of AC Milan, 1998