Does Platini’s CL plan for the FA Cup warrant consideration?

Michel Platini, the Uefa president, has reignited a debate that he started in 2008 to see domestic cup winners take the final Champions League spot. In our case it would mean the FA Cup winners take the fabled fourth place Champions League qualifying position in the Premier League.

Platini made the proposal two years ago but was forced to withdraw after opposition from European leagues but he has now revived the idea:

“The access list is something we can think about for the future, and I am always feeling and thinking that the winners of the cup perhaps have to participate in this competition. They are champions as they have won a trophy and this is the Champions League. But it’s complicated and very difficult.”

After dropping the original proposal in 2008, Platini backed changes in the competition to allow more club champions from smaller countries to be included in the group stages. By now returning to the issue of domestic cup winners being granted admission into the Champions League I have a sneaking suspicion (well it hardly takes a genius to suss the glaringly obvious out) that Platini wants more opportunities for smaller clubs in Europe’s premier club competition. That strikes me as slightly counterproductive. Whilst he may claim the monetary state of the game (he especially enjoys finger pointing at our particular island) is in disrepute and the changes allow less prestigious champions to benefit from the monumental revenue streams provided by television rights and endorsements, what it actually serves to do is protect the perennial attendees year after year.

How will it do this? It broadens the gulf in quality between competitors and lessens the elitist notions that the Champions League is built on. It’s supposed to be elitist. Allowing mediocrity – without too much disrespect to the champions of, say, a San Marino or a Sudan if Platini eventually endeavours to incorporate them – into what is, by design, a competition comprised of the top teams in the top European leagues strongly hints at protectionist intentions. More established teams will have less to worry about and more chances of idling through the earlier stages. What’s more damaging for the level of competition is that, given a little luck in the draw, it will protect the likes of Portuguese and Dutch teams who regularly attend yet usually fail to leave a lasting impression. Should it be Platini’s prerogative to aid these teams? And in doing so does he damage the reputation of the competition?

The only advantage for the FA Cup as a whole is that it will bring back some of the prestige lost over the past decade or so. There will be more emphasis on trying to win the trophy and more at stake for all concerned. My qualm with the proposal is simply that though winning a knock out competition is a superb achievement, it is more contingent on luck than a league system. Tottenham finished fourth on merit after a long season; they are the fourth best in the league and thus deserve their Champions League qualifying spot. Winning the FA Cup has more variables outside a team’s own control (luck of the draw and refereeing decisions carry far more weight in knockout competitions and there is no way to standardise requirements across the board: it is conceivable, though highly unlikely, that a team can win the FA Cup without having faced anyone in their own division).

The domestic cup winners from Germany, England and Italy this year ended up being the league winners anyway, so maybe this proposal won’t make too much difference in who gets the final Champions League spot. But if there is even the potential for it to lessen the competitive edge of the competition, why risk it? Why not leave the FA Cup winners with their spot in the Europa League? Surely that makes more sense than dropping them into what should be Europe’s elite. My worry is that Platini is slowly ensuring safety for not just the best teams (after all, quality always wins out given a long enough time frame) but for the uninspired attendees who fail to progress past the group stages on most occasions. His job is not to protect teams but to, especially now, protect the prestige what should be an historic and elite competition.

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