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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Has the time come for a European Super League?

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The Champions League is the biggest prize in football. Locking horns with the finest clubs the Continent has to offer, not to mention the greatest players in the world. If you win the Champions League you can die a very happy man.

However, Galatasaray chairman Unal Aysal believes a change to the greatest club competition in the world could soon be on its way, one that could potentially destroy football as we know it. He insists that a European Super League could replace the Champions League in a maximum of five years. So instead of having a mini league before the cut and thrust of knockout football, we'd have the cream of the crop of Europe in a league of 20 playing twice a season.

But is this really what the fans want to see?

The lure of the Champions League is arguably the knockout games when the kings of England, Spain, Germany and Italy clash head on, knowing that it's winner takes all. Knowing that on this night anything could happen. Heroes can be born and villains created. Simply knowing that your team must perform on the night or it's all over. Without that, the competition loses some of its charm.

The league section of the Champions League can at times be as stale as last week's bread. Seeded giants against European minnows can occasionally produce the odd shock, but most of the time we know what the end result is going to be. In that respect seeing games involving Manchester United v Barcelona or Real Madrid v Bayern Munich or AC Milan v Arsenal every other week would be great, but Mr Aysal also wants the competition to be a closed shop.

Bayern champsNo promotion or relegation, just the 20 best teams in Europe left to play in their own personal playground every season without fail. This I believe is nonsense and full of pitfalls.

Without relegation and promotion, what is there for teams to play for? Arguably Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United would be up there challenging for the title. But what about the rest? Say, for example, Juventus have a poor start to the campaign and are rooted to the bottom. The fact that there is no threat of relegation means they don't really have to care. They can just sit there, pick up their millions and be happy. 

Also, how are we choosing the top 20 clubs are? Would we still have four from England, Germany, Spain and Italy? That only leaves four more slots to fill. Would the criteria involve actual European Cup triumphs in which case Liverpool with five cups under their belts and Nottingham Forest with two should be in and Arsenal and Manchester City with none be out? Would Galatasaray who are pushing hard for this change even be invited?

And what about the fans and the environment? How are supporters going to afford to be able to fly here, there and everywhere to follow their clubs? Sure you have Sky TV etc, but it's not the same. Being there and backing your team on the night is what it is all about. And flying thousands of fans around every midweek would have climate change campaigners spitting feathers.

The proposal throws up more questions than my little brother does when he eats his auntie's cooking. What if someone like Everton or Aston Villa actually won the Premier League. Would they be denied their place to dine at the top table because it was a closed shop? If that were the case it would make a mockery of the whole competition. And if Manchester United were to be relegated from the Premier League, would they still retain their place amongst Europe's elite?

It's alright for European clubs playing in their turgid leagues to be interested in ways of generating more excitement and money, but over here the Premier League is undoubtedly the best league in the world. It may not have the skill factor of La Liga, but in terms of excitement and passion our game is head and shoulders above everything else, mainly because we have more than two teams capable of winning it. Right now, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, Spurs and Man United are all in the mix to be Premier League champions. The Premier League also has teams who, on their day, can give the big boys a run for their money. Nobody just sits down, rolls over and has their bellies tickled. They play the game with honour, respect and dignity.

The Champions League is undoubtedly the one everyone wants to play in, but if we are to honour and crown the real champions of Europe why don't we rebrand the Champions League as just that. A league of 20 title winners from the top leagues in Europe. They play each other twice over the course of the season, the winner is officially crowned the best in Europe. 

The rest of the clubs finishing in the top four/five can remain in the current Champions League format, but obviously the competition would have to be rebranded. I would also personally scrap the Europa League in favour of the return of the European Cup Winners' Cup - a competition that would honour teams who have actually won silverware and not just finished in the top four.

However, we all know that is now going to happen because the clubs would not relinquish all that power, exposure and money, and where would they all fit in the TV schedule?

Also we as fans do want to see the big, big games. Having Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea in different competitions would simply be bad for business. 

A European Super League may well be round the corner, but the authorities must get the format of it right or the fans could ultimately turn their backs the game they love. 

Calling all football fans: What do you think of Usal Aysal's proposals? Would you like to see a European Super League? Who would feature in your top 20? Would you be interested in a league that had no promotion or relegation? How would you make European competitions more interesting? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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Antony Melvin



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