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UEFA considering shake up to European competitions

Nov 28, 2012, 3:23 PM EDT

UEFA President Platini smiles during a draw ceremony for the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Tel Aviv Reuters

The Europa League’s not quite useless, but it’s close. For a lot of fans, it gives their clubs a chance to play unique opponents in locations their team would otherwise never see. When big clubs have an off year and fall into UEFA’s second club tournament, we get weird matches like Liverpool visiting Anzhi Makhachkala or Inter Milan going to Azerbaijan’s FK Neftchi.

The problem is nobody ever asked what it would be like it Internazionale went to Azerbaijan.

No matter how quirky Europa League’s matchups get, there’s an inherent, debilitating problem the competition can never avoid. The stakes are too low for any team to care until the tournament’s final stages, when the possibility of silverware becomes a real possibility. But for most of that 15-match slog to the title, there’s a lot of justified apathy.

So it’s no surprised to hear from UEFA’s president that the governing body will consider changes to Europe’s club competitions, getting rid of Europa League in favor of expanding Champions League from 32 to 64 teams.

“We’re discussing it,” Platini told Ouest France about the proposed move. “We will make a decision in 2014. Nothing is decided yet.

“There is an ongoing debate to determine what form the European competitions will have between 2015 and 2018.”

The European Club Association also acknowledged the possibility, providing a posturing comment:

“We exchanged initial thoughts, but the discussions are to follow,” a an ECA representative told CNN. “For the time being there’s nothing concrete.”

The ECA represents 207 clubs across UEFA.

“As a principle, ECA is happy with the competition structure as it is. However, we are open to discuss changes or improvements in light of the 2015-18 competition cycle.”

The proposed changes would have the unfortunate side effect of transposing some of Europa League’s problems (too big, too many meaningless games) onto UEFA’s showcase competition. But it’s hard to see dropping Europa League and the 48 European spots it grants ECA clubs without providing some concession. At least this concession has the convenient consequence of putting teams in a tournament that matters.

Changes won’t come for three years, if they come at all. In the meantime, fans can look forward to many more Thursday nights scanning final scores of games they never intended to watch.

  1. dfstell - Nov 28, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    The only downside is that you don’t want more marquee clubs getting beat early due to flukey one-off results. Weird stuff happens. If the marquee clubs start to lose, the TV money goes away.

    Why not do it like – gasp – CONCACAF does? They’ve basically tried to rig the situation so that the Mexican and American teams advance by not mixing the Mexican and American clubs in a single group. Without these Groups of Death, the marquee clubs SHOULD advance. Then you have a probably very solid final 16: mostly the marquee clubs that people care about and also one or two underdogs for everyone else….???

    • wesbadia - Nov 28, 2012 at 4:40 PM

      People presuppose that the way CONCACAF is doing CCL now is somehow “rigging” things… as if that’s a bad thing. What has happened, or at least my perspective on it, is that CONCACAF has finally realized that there is a duopoly (something Farley talked about before) in the region and that most other clubs cannot truly compete with the likes of US and Mexican teams. As good as the Saprissa’s, Herediano’s, Marathon’s, etc are, they are not on the level of the Galaxy, Seattle, Monterrey, or Santos Laguna. All the current system does is afford the benefit of the doubt to teams from these countries by grouping them with Central American or Caribbean opponents. If the “lesser” sides prove to be better, then so be it. It roots out the weaker teams in the tournament. It’s better for Alajualense to be in a group with a single big opponent than two of them. At least against one you can better plan how to play against them and focus solely on that opponent than splitting resources.

      I find it odd, however, that ECA is looking at getting rid of Europa at a time when many in the CONCACAF region are clamoring for a second tier tournament of their own.

  2. Dan Haug - Nov 28, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    I think in professional sports we are too focused on crowning a single champion. I like the array of cup competitions that you find in soccer. I like the idea that you have multiple tournaments that different teams have the opportunity to win, and that a natural hierarchy begins to form among those tournaments. If there is a problem with Europa league, I would say that it is too big as a single tournament. If you want to make it more interesting, set up regional tournaments that feed into it, and crown the winners of those tournaments as regional champions. It only takes a couple of teams to start to buy into a regional tournament like this to start getting the competitive juices flowing and raise the standard of play.

  3. @C_Tobin - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:25 PM

    It’s easy to ‘fix’ the Europa League. The winner (or both finalists if you like) earn Champions League group stage entry next year.

    Would you not like to see Falcao and Atlético Madrid in the Champions League this year?

    • tylerbetts - Nov 28, 2012 at 10:23 PM

      I like this solution, and I’d advocate for it. Want to make a competition mean more? Make winning it that much more valuable?

      And more immediately valuable. I know that Europa wins can help your coefficient and get you more spots in CL blah blah balh

  4. suckittrebek76 - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:35 PM

    any expansion to the UCL would severely water down the group stages. One of the great things about that competition is that a lot of really talented teams (i.e. MCFC) struggle to get to the knockout stage. it would be a shame if they took that element out of the competition.

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