After reading David Gore's article earlier today about Bolton chairman Phil Gartside, and Gartside's views on the future of association football in Europe, I was left with the following question.
Is European football ready for the Champions League to move from a tournament format, to an actual league?
Some might argue that association football is already dead or at the very least on life support in many European nations.
England is dominated by "the Big Four"; Spain by Barcelona, Valencia, and Real Madrid; Italy by their own Big Four of Juventus, Roma, and the Milan sides.
Smaller domestic leagues are even more stratified where fans in Turkey, Greece, and Scotland go into each season knowing that only two teams will ever have a chance to win their nation's top flight.
In many ways European football has been moving in this direction over the past decade, with the big money clubs taking more power from both UEFA and FIFA.
When 14 top European clubs formed a coalition in 2000 to pressure FIFA and its European sister organization into compensating top clubs for the services of international players in the European and World Cup; the clubs further showed a power shift in the sport.
No longer do national FAs or even FIFA itself have the power as in the past, rather the clubs...or to be exact the handful of clubs now dominate the sport.
Gartside's idea of a two-tiered Premier League is not the answer because it does not solve the problem of "big four" dominance, and all that set-up would do is create yet another level of English football where the only benefit would be the possibility of clubs like Bolton, Wigan, and Hull actually winning something.
The answer is clear to the increased stratification between the haves and the have-not's in European football.
A true UEFA Champions League.
How It Would Work
Beginning in the 2009-10 season using the UEFA club coefficient formula from only past UEFA Champions League tournaments the 20 most successful clubs from 2004-05 to 2008-09 would be granted membership into the initial league.
The initial clubs would consist of the following sides:
England (4) Arsenal, Chelsea, Livepool, Manchester United.
Italy (4) Inter Milan, Juventus, Milan, Roma.
Spain (4) Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Villarreal.
Germany (2) Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen.
Portugul (2) Benfica, F.C. Porto.
Also included would be Celtic, Fenerbahce, Lyon, and PSV Eindhoven.
These 20 clubs would play a 38 match season with allowances made for domestic cup competitions, meaning most games would primarily be played on weekdays on prime time television throughout Europe.
Three clubs each season would be relegated and if a club from a "one bid" nation is relegated they will be replaced by the winner of their domestic league. For example if Celtic are relegated, they would most likely be replaced by Rangers the following year.
If a club from a multiple bid nation is relegated they will be replaced by the winner of the new UEFA Europa League (formally the UEFA Cup), if two sides from multiple bid nations are relegated then the Europa League winner and runner-up are promoted.
If three teams from multiple bid leagues are relegated then a two-leg playoff will take place between the losing Europa League semifinalists for the final bid.
If no clubs from multiple bid leagues are relegated the the Europa League champion will still be promoted forming a 21-bid league the following season with four teams being relegated the following year.
The Benefits of This Arrangement
For the larger clubs the money that could be produced from such a mega league would be astounding.
Fans of the top European clubs would no longer have to sit through near meaningless fixtures such as Chelsea-Stoke City, Juventus-Siena, or Real Madrid-Sporting Gijon.
Every match in the new Champions League would be between two top flight European clubs, without the added stress of having to compete in a domestic league as these clubs are doing currently.
Also this arrangement would give meaning to the UEFA Cup/Europa League which for the past decade has been largely irrelevant.
With a spot in the most elite league in professional sports at stake the Europa League would gain in both importance, stature, and most importantly (to those running UEFA) financial worth.
Finally the smaller clubs would actually benefit as well because no longer would they be saddled by the "big money" sides in an attempt to compete at an equal level.
Solid clubs like Aston Villa, Sevilla, Lazio, and VfB Stuttgart would have a chance to win their domestic leagues without the presence of the "big money" clubs that have dominated the top of the table for so long.
Even smaller domestic leagues would benefit from the money distributed to smaller footballing nations from the astronomical television revenues this new league would provide.
While this idea will more than likely never take hold given Michel Platini's view of the place of "mega clubs" in European football.
This is certainly where the future of professional football in Europe is heading if not now then in the near future.
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