Euro Extension to the Detriment of Football
Jamie Carragher has not often been lauded for his insight into footballing matters so far at Euro 2012, though was far superior to his colleagues in his recent comments about the extension of the European Championship to 24 teams in 2014. The crux of Carragher’s argument focused around denouncing the dilution of quality in pursuit of UEFA’s commercial gain, a nugget of applaudable sense in an otherwise ludicrously tame selection of punditry at the tournament.
Like Paul Merson, Michel Platini seems to have forgotten that the best things in life should enjoyed in moderation. Modern football has reached the stage whereby action is available on prescription, the unbridled excesses of television companies and consumers alike resulting in the dampening of football quality. No longer is it a treat to be able to watch live football. If you own either a television set or have internet access is it inconceivable to go a single day without being subjected to a game of football at one level or another. Watching live football is part of our daily routine: get home, put the kettle on, put the dinner in and watch Linfield vs Glentoran on Sky Sports 3.
Platini has been openly forthright in his reasoning behind enacting the measures: more teams = more matches = more viewers = more money. There is barely even a hint of suggestion that it is being done in the interests of smaller national associations not afforded sufficient opportunities to qualify for the tournament. UEFA appear to be chugging hazily along behind the FIFA gravy train, destined for overindulgence. When money takes precedence, football suffers.
The beauty of the European Championships lies in its concise, dignified structure which allows for the control of quality. No match is a lame duck. Much like a poet who ponders at great length over every choice of word, every syllable, there is no room for filler – every verse of the Euros is of the highest caliber. If the current version of the European Championships is comparable to poetry, then the extended version of the World Cup could be a Coldplay song: vague, ambiguous and utterly meaningless until the final chorus kicks in.
As much as it was something of novelty to sit down and witness New Zealand vs Slovakia in 2010, the intensity of the group stages at Euro 2012 are far more appealing. It is unlikely that a fixture such as England vs France or Holland vs Germany would ever sprout up until the Quarter-Finals at the World Cup, with a splattering of mediocre, predictable ties preceding. At the European Championships, such high profile games are a daily occurrence.
This is not to begrudge the smaller nations of Europe the chance to assume a greater stage. The new regulations may well enhance the Home Nations’ prospects whilst also ensuring that England (probably) never experience the mortifying failure of 2008 again. The fact that the Republic of Ireland are at Euro 2012 is all the more impressive because of the stringent qualification criteria, but a similar achievement in a tournament of 24 teams may taint this. Much like opening up a fourth domestic spot for Champions League qualification, the extension of the tournament in fact degrades achievement.
The current format ensures that the best of Europe rise to the top, without the ignominy of having to see off lower ranked opponents in the group stage. It sorts the men from the boys, the poets from the prosaic lyricists.
Extending the European Championships may be inevitable, but it will not be the benefit of football. There will be more football to watch, more official corporate sponsors to attain and more television companies clambering for rights. Eight nations will gain something. UEFA will gain everything. Football will gain nothing.
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