Do clubs like Liverpool really have a divine right?
It is the goal of any ambitious club to dine at Europe’s top table, the UEFA Champions League. A competition that through it’s various guises has come to define some of the greatest and most revered club sides of the past. Think of the famous Madrid team of the 60s, Johan Cruyff’s Dutch masters in the early 70s and the English led domination of the late 70s and early 80s. These are all teams that have left an indelible mark on the history of our game and whose reputation remains assured.
For many it is the mark of a good team, perhaps even the real hallmark of a ‘big’ club to have succeeded on the highest stage of all. The likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Liverpool are all major clubs in part due to their European success and the acclaim that is derived from it. The usual jibe at the nouveau riche; PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea, is that they simply haven’t proven themselves on the greatest stage of all (although Chelsea have now done so through their success in 2012).
Yet should these past triumphs guarantee participation for some of the most successful and popular clubs of yester-year? In an ambitious proposed shake-up, UEFA and its members will soon meet to discuss the option of a wildcard system for the competition.
The European Clubs’ Association (ECA) said it will work with UEFA on any “improvements” before 2018.
ECA boss Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has said:
“In the future, I can see a tournament consisting of 20 teams from Italy, England, Spain, Germany and France. “It is an idea born some time ago. I see that in the top five leagues in Europe, the big teams are always getting stronger and stronger.
“A super league outside of the Champions League is being born. It will either be led by UEFA or by a separate entity, because there is a limit to how much money can be made.”
The proposal lends itself to a greater number of high profile ties, with the thinking being that there will be greater interest, an increased TV audience and with it implicitly a much vaster revenue pool.
Inter Milan chief executive Michael Bolingbroke can see the merit in the idea of Champions League wildcards.
“The TV income distribution here is based on performance not just in the last year but the last five and last 50,” he said. “There is merit in that.”
News of the Premier League’s most wealthy clubs meeting to talk about the concept was greeted with a degree of scepticism, particularly as three of them; Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea are unlikely to qualify for next season’s competition based on their current league standing. Like the three English clubs, Inter Milan are a former European Cup winner, lifting the last of their three titles in 2010. However, they have failed to qualify for the tournament since 2012 and did not play in any European competition for the second time in three seasons this term.
“There are clubs who have not got to the competitions they think they need to. Many of these clubs have huge fan bases. That drives UEFA and drives revenues.
“The question is: do you need to find a balance between that and having the clubs in the competition that have performed well in the last 12 months?
Bolinbroke’s motivations are clear, but such reasoning would be much the same for the CEO of any club with a European pedigree whose fortunes have faded in recent years. Where would the line be drawn anyway? For surely the likes of Nottingham Forest and Steaua Bucharest desire the same treatment if not better than say the likes of Chelsea or Manchester City? Or would we start ranking clubs on twitter followers and YouTube hits rather than on tournament successes past and present?
The Champions League is an elite competition and rightly so, but that doesn’t mean that the arrogance of a few is justifiable either. The magic remains in the uncertainty, underdogs like Chelsea and Porto rising to Europe’s summit when few would have backed them. The participation of Gent in this years knockout rounds shouldn’t be the mark of a failing competition, more so a sign of the vibrancy still present in today’s game.
If we continue the slide towards monetization, the game risks losing its soul; a much a greater risk than affording so called lesser clubs their chance at generation defining success.
Would UEFA be right to give certain clubs special treatment?