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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

Europe’s future hinges on Premier League clubs

Neither the European Clubs Association (ECA) nor the UEFA have been able to firm up a plan that will again restructure the Champions League but both want a competition with a number of permanent slots for Europe’s top clubs

football Updated: Sep 18, 2019 10:19 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
Liverpool won the Champions League last year while Chelsea lifted the Europa League defeating Arsenal in final
Liverpool won the Champions League last year while Chelsea lifted the Europa League defeating Arsenal in final(REUTERS)
         

It is the performance of Premiership clubs in the Champions League on which the future of Europe’s top leagues could hinge. Another round of English domination of Europe—last season all finalists in the Champions League and Europa League were from the Premiership—and the clamour for a partially closed European Super League comprising football’s fattest cats could grow.

The proposed changes would come into effect from 2024. Neither the European Clubs Association (ECA) nor the UEFA have been able to firm up a plan that will again restructure the Champions League but both want a competition with a number of permanent slots for Europe’s top clubs. ECA wants 24 of the 32 group league slots to be fixed; UEFA is suggesting semi-finalists—maybe quarter-finalists too—of one edition be guaranteed berths in the next. Also in the works is a plan to have a Europa League II from 2021 and to get semi-finalists of the Europa League Champions League berths.

That will mean more games in Europe but struggling with the domestic calendar is not the only way national leagues will be affected. Their position would be undermined if sporting achievement is not the only prerequisite for a berth in the Champions League. As of now, barring Europa League and Champions League winners, all berths in the Champions league are decided by the team’s rank in the domestic league standings.

Andrea Agnelli, president of the ECA and Juventus, saying that it would be months before an acceptable solution is reached has done little to placate the leagues. The Premiership, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga have spoken against this.

La Liga head Javier Tebas said it could trigger a fall of 41.5% in audio-visual revenue in the first year and plunge thereafter. “In Spain, the football industry makes the equivalent of 1.37% of GDP, directly and indirectly generates 185,000 jobs, and raises more than €4 billion for state coffers. Salaries at clubs that are not in the new European Super League would go down by 70% and up to 50,000 jobs would be lost. It’s dramatic,” Tebas has said.

Lopsided leagues are why some ECA members are pitching for an annual competition that would assure more games for Europe’s best, also its richest. The odds on current leaders Sevilla winning La Liga are between 51:1 and 40:1 while that of Barcelona retaining La Liga stay the shortest at 1:1.61.

It is the same with PSG in France, Juventus in Serie A and Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. PSG have won six of the last seven Ligue 1 titles; Juventus have been champions of Italy since 2011-12 and Bayern have reigned in Germany for the past seven seasons. Hence the call for more matches with top teams in Europe.

With Neymar scissors-kicking back into PSG; with Matthijs de Ligt, Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot joining Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus; with Philippe Coutinho, Benjamin Pavard, Ivan Perisic and Lucas Hernandez at Bayern and with Barcelona signing Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong, these clubs should mount a stronger challenge at home this term.

Europe would be different. Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan—where Antonio Conte is in charge and where Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Diego Godin have joined—are in Group F. Juventus, eyeing their first title since 1996, have to contend with Atletico Madrid in Group D and PSG must deal with Real Madrid in Group A.

For Premiership’s quartet, the draw looks kinder. True, Tottenham Hotspur are with Bayern in Group B and have a potential banana skin in Red Star Belgrade but neither they nor Manchester City, reigning champions Liverpool and Chelsea are bracing for an early end to their European season. Brushing away talk of another season of English domination, Juergen Klopp has said the Champions League is so strong there is no need for a European Super League. “If people really think about this kind of Super League, then you don’t need it,” he said.

Klopp’s comment seems a continuation of what Alex Ferguson said before Manchester United won the treble in 1999. “Europe ought to be the cherry on the cake. No one wants it to be the whole cake—that would spoil everything,” Ferguson had said. The Premiership is competitive—last term Liverpool failed to win it despite getting 97 points and losing just once—and clubs shared 690 million pounds, a huge portion of which was used by top clubs to make an impact in Europe. But that can’t be said of Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Holland. Hence, the splurge on Ronaldo to deliver a European crown last season.

Being part of the Champions League group stage assures a club of 15 million euros as does making the final; the winners get another cheque of 4 million euros.

Ajax got 12 million euros for making the penultimate round alone. Each win this term would fetch 2.7 million euros—a draw will fetch 900,000 euros—and it is possible to get 82.2 million euros by winning the competition without losing a game.

This is apart from what clubs would receive from the sale of television rights and for their rank in Europe. “…We desperately wanted to get into the Champions League… These are very important games,” said Ajax defender Daley Blind before the final round of qualifiers against Apoel Nicosia.

Outside the Premiership, football’s elite feel the future is in Europe.

First Published: Sep 18, 2019 10:19 IST

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