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The Champions League? Hardly...

by The Supercoach on Oct 16, 2011

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Does the Champions League annoy you? I only ask because I want to know if I’m the only one.

There are eight Champions League groups, with each group containing four teams, but how many of those teams are champions? Well I’ve done a quick check and out of the 32 teams that are in the Champions League group stage, 18 were champions of their domestic league. It would have been nineteen, but Fenerbahçe were disqualified due to match fixing allegations.

The end result is that 14 of the 32 clubs in the Champions League did not finish first in their domestic competition last year. What is perhaps even more telling is that many teams in the group stages who did not finish as domestic champions didn't even have to go through the qualifying stages. To name but a few, Napoli, Chelsea and Manchester City all took this route.

Compare this to the experiences of a team like SK Sturm Graz, who finished top of the Austrian Bundesliga in 2010/11, managed to progress through the second and third round of the Champions League qualifying rounds, only to then get knocked out in the play-off rounds. They now find themselves in the Europa League.

Maybe I’m a bit of an idealist, but I think that the Champions League should be for champions of domestic competitions. Not trying to take anything away from their achievement, but Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005 despite the fact that the last time they were champions of England, the Premier League didn’t even exist.

Why should some teams who weren’t champions get an easier ride to the extremely lucrative Champions League when others, who were champions, don’t?

According to UEFA:

“Each of the 32 clubs involved in the group stage will receive a participation bonus of €3.9m. In addition, they will be entitled to a match bonus of €550,000 per match played in the group stage. Performance bonuses will also see €800,000 paid for every win and €400,000 for every draw in the group stage.”

So even if a team loses every match in the group stage, they will still make a guaranteed €7,200,000. This doesn’t even take into account the additional revenue that would be gained from the three home matches.

Compare this with the revenue gained from the Europa League:

“Each of the 48 clubs involved in the group stage can expect to receive a participation bonus of €640,000. In addition, they will be entitled to a match bonus of €60,000 per match played in the group stage. Performance bonuses will also be paid – €140,000 for every win and €70,000 for every draw in the group stage.”

A team that makes the Europa League group stage and loses every match will rake in the grand total of €1,000,000. Hardly seems worth the effort doesn’t it?

My basic understanding is that the sale of TV rights forms the largest portion of the money attached to involvement in European competition. As the Europa League is viewed as an inferior competition, the TV rights don’t sell for as much, meaning that clubs get less money than their Champions League counterparts.

Couple this financial discrepancy with the seeding system giving teams from the big leagues an easier ride to the Champions League, and it’s getting harder and harder for smaller teams to break into the big boys club.

So what can be done?

A restructure of European competition could be the answer. Reorganising the Champions League to only include national champions would see a redistribution of the lucrative TV rights funds and help smaller leagues across Europe. This new Champions League would still include teams like Barcelona, Manchester United and AC Milan.

Meanwhile, teams such as Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, teams who finished in the top four of their domestic competitions, would compete in the Europa League. This would make the Europa League TV rights more attractive than they currently are. Imagine a Europa Cup quarter final where Bayern Munich is playing Chelsea.

While this restructure would likely lead to reduced Champions League revenue, it would not only make the Europa League a more credible competition, but it would also provide extra money to the smaller clubs and leagues across Europe.

This situation is surely in the best interests of the game in Europe and would help the viability and sustainability of smaller clubs and leagues. Additionally, these smaller clubs would be able to keep their better players and attract talented players as they can offer Champions League football. Finally, the extra cash that comes with European competition will help clubs not only remain viable, but also grow.

Now there are dangers with this approach. Namely that the smaller leagues across Europe could come to resemble the Scottish Premier League or La Liga, where realistically, only two teams can win the competition and as such they are not truly competitive. This appears to be happening already in many leagues across Europe anyway.

It is also assured that major clubs in the big leagues would not be happy with this arrangement and would threaten to break away from UEFA. However, this is not an unusual event and the idea of a European Super League has been floating around for years. Would a restructuring of European competition be the catalyst to finally happening? Who knows?

In my opinion, a restructure is worth the risk. I don’t know about the broader footballing community, but if a team that finished fourth in its domestic competition could be named champions of Europe, then there’s something inherently wrong with the system.