For too long now the best teams in Europe have been shared between two or three countries. Spain, England and Germany currently hold four places each for Champions League qualification in their respective leagues.
Despite this being the case Spain have five teams in this year’s Champions League because of a new rule in the Europa League, which grants the winner automatic qualification into the most prestigious club competition in the world. Sevilla took advantage of this rule last season by winning the Champions League’s ugly brother at the end of May.
Of the last eleven winners of the Champions League only four had won their domestic league the year before. Furthermore, the last eleven winners of the Champions League have all come from either, Spain, England, Germany or Italy. This dominance did not occur in the old format of the European Cup unless a club was truly great.
A new format was introduced in 1998 that allowed multiple teams from certain countries to play in the tournament. This effectively priced out the smaller European leagues from competing for Europe’s great club prize. The Champions League has become a 5 star hotel, reserved only for the rich and famous of European football.
Commercially it makes perfect sense, because you have more glamour ties between the big teams. Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United is far more desirable than Red Star Belgrade vs Manchester United. This is despite the fact that Red Star Belgrade won the Serbian league title last season and can boast of one European Cup triumph, unlike Atletico. However, the Madrid boys have stellar names and a greater commercial clout.
The Champions League is a great tournament, when it reaches the knockout phases. The group stages are only in place to give plucky underdogs like Celtic, Ajax and Steuea Bucharest an unlikely chance of progressing. These three European minnows have six European Cups between them.
The new format devalues the achievement made by the winners of the old European Cup, as victors of the old format would have won either their own league title or the European Cup the year before, just to be granted entry into the competition. This set-up could well have been called the ‘Champions League’.
If a reversion to the old system took place, then positive changes would occur. No longer would teams like, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham be content with a fourth place finish, instead challenging for other honours such as the FA Cup and Europa League. It is often forgotten that the old UEFA Cup was a prestigious tournament in its own right, and not a second rate tournament for the tag alongs of European football.
Not only this, but it would promote a more diverse culture of European football, instead of the same old matches year in year out. So maybe UEFA should revise their Champions League model, and consider inviting more countries into their elitist union.
Only then will we see the true heavyweights of European football collide again.