There was something rather inevitable about FIFA president Michel Platini’s recent decision to amend his “sweeping” reforms to the European Cup. In the first place, he pledged to cut the number of teams from the richest nations from four to three and give those places to the champions of other countries. All well and good, but I don’t think that any of us suspected for a second that it would actually happen and so it came to pass that his revised proposals to give that fourth place to the nations’ cup winners was put forward. It strikes me that this was always going to happen (though I still broadly like Platini, primarily for giving Euro 2012 to Poland and Ukraine rather than Italy) and there are, of course serious question marks over whether this will make the slightest difference to who qualifies for it whatsoever. You don’t have to search very hard on the internet at all for a million billion rows about this issue elsewhere on the internet, so we’ll take it as read that the European Cup needs a massive overhaul and I, yes I, have the flair and imagination for the job. With so many one-sided matches and meaningless matches, something needs to be done and it needs to be radical. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Keep the entrants as they are, but make teams from countries with a population of more than 45,000,000 play their matches with nine players. Now, this might seem a bit harsh on the likes of Spartak Moscow, Dynamo Kiev and Fenerbahce, but it would certainly level things up a bit for the clubs from the Big Three (Italy, Spain and England). How long do you think it would take before Alex Ferguson was ordering his players to get themselves sent off to get their numbers reduced to six players with the intention of getting matches that they were losing abandoned?
2. Give the fourth European Cup place to the team that has finished bottom of the top division that season. Derby County may well be set to be the worst team in the history of top-flight English football (seriously – I wouldn’t be surprised if they went the whole of this season without winning a single match), but this blow would be softened by knowing that they’d be taking their place amongst Europe’s elite the following season. Also, the race for bottom place amongst the already-relegated clubs in the last few weeks of the season would bring a new dimension to the league.
3. Give the fourth European Cup place to the FA Trophy winners. Oh yes. This is the good stuff. The FA Trophy had a serious boost when its final was the first competitive match to be played at the new Wembley stadium. Serious about redistributing wealth within football? A place in the Champions League could be worth £50m to a non-league club – enough to keep them going forever (although there are probably a few that could easily spend their way through it in six months, given half a chance).
4. A lottery. Live in ITV1 on the last day of the season, the top ten teams in the Premier League are entered into a pot and the first four names out go into the following year’s European Cup. The Big Four still have a chance of getting into it, and ITV could turn it into a three hour long light entertainment hosted by Odie The Talking Pug, and featuring live performances from Limahl and Cradle Of Filth. Well, I’d watch it.
5. Enter every single professional club in Europe into one enormous knock-out cup (no seeding – seeding is rubbish) to start the day after the last season’s final, playing four matches a week until two teams get through to the final. I bet Barcelona would still draw Chelsea every year.
I’ll be submitting my application for Michel’s job in the morning.
PS: Here’s some more Baker & Kelly from 4th July 1998 – more to follow on Sunday.