As we prepare for another round of Champions League action both fans and clubs alike will be eagerly anticipating what lies in store for the eight quarterfinalists. Even if your're team has been eliminated before this stage in the competition, neutrals and fans of the clubs still involved have, quite simply, a feast of top level football to behold from now until the end of the competition.
My question is why isn't this the case every weekend? Why do we have to watch the big fish (we know who they are by now: England's Big 4, Italy's Big 3, Spain's Big 2 +Bayern, Lyon, Porto etc) kill time in their ever shrinking smaller domestic ponds across Europe?
I am a neutral when watching most football matches, so clearly the idea of a European league appeals to me.
Why you say? Well quite simply football standards would be higher in a hypothetical league. They would logically improve if the top level professional footballers across Europe were competing week in week out with each other. Different styles and cultures of football would finally be able to test each other over a marathon (league) and not a sprint (cup).
If all clubs in such a league were given equal TV revenue in this upgraded Champions League form, unlike what is currently the case within most European domestic leagues, we wouldn't see gigantism and eventually cannibalism of domestic leagues in the long run by massive institutional clubs like Barcelona/Real Madrid in Spain, Porto in Portugal, Olympiakos in Greece, Lyon in France, Rosenborg in Norway (the appalling list goes on..)
The obvious hideous conclusion to this well observed trend in European football would be numerous domestic leagues losing attractiveness, popularity and most importantly level of intensity/competitiveness on and off the pitch; if that hasn't happened already. This is without doubt bad for the sport in general.
Today, even Europe-wide, already the revenue question is getting out of hand with Premiership TV revenues dwarfing all other leagues revenues - which becomes apparent on the pitch. How long will those on the continent withstand the Premiership behemoth?
If recent years are to go by, they've already failed. (See here for a recent example)
There is also a precedent, namely the breaking off of England's top clubs from England's Division 1 into what is today called the Barclays Premiership. Needless to say the Premiership has been a runaway success with standards improving both and off the pitch; Football has evolved from the long ball game while stadiums have become bigger, better and most importantly, safer.
Even English hooliganism has declined as the high profile of the league has been mutually reinforced by higher structural (and brand image) standards brought on.
To me, the question then becomes 'what form should it take'.
To see a basic idea of what I propose might entail, please see page 2.
I'm proposing the UEFA cup/Europa League be turned into a cup competition for this European League so that it can finally have some sort of prestige and provide added excitement. After all some teams have unarguably proven they are better at the sprint (we're looking at you Liverpool, Sevilla)
The league itself should also have relegation places. This would avoid elitism and eventual stagnation.
A system whereby every year a playoff format, which would include Europe's top teams from the domestic leagues left behind, would play each other for those spots vacated based on agreed seeding arrangements and so forth (much like the qualification rounds currently in place in today's version of the CL).
Relegated teams would return to their domestic league.
Fixture congestion would be a thing of the past. In essence playing in Europe, to which so many clubs aspire to, now becomes a domestic arrangement with only international fixtures providing external fixtures. National team managers may even finally find time to work properly with their squads!
Revenues and interest in the game would increase dramatically both as a whole and for the clubs involved. Those 'left behind' still have an option of gaining a place in the league every year while the Champions League, preferably overseen by UEFA would become the pinnacle of top level football, perhaps even replacing the World Cup in prestige.
A final side benefit would undoubtedly the end of corruption as we know it. No team would dare try to fix a match in such a high profile and watched league with other giants/institutions of the game involved. I'm not alluding to specific leagues here when I make this point (cough* Italy, Real Madrid, Olympiakos) but political equilibrium between clubs involved would dictate things are completely settled 'cleanly'.
Most importantly I'll have something more to look forward to every weekend other than watching teams like Stoke or Sunderland perform damage limitation exercises (with their parallel counterparts in other leagues doing the same).