For a long time now the elephant in the room of the Premier League success story has been talk of another seismic football breakaway. From UEFA’s reported ambition of a European super league to increasingly barbed owners demanding larger slices of that sweet TV revenue pie with an extra dollop of the overseas rights on the side for good measure; there has been a storm brewing for some time.
UEFA’s revelation to the Football Association regarding its long term proposal for Champions League qualification was in effect, a fencing off of the top clubs whilst simultaneously freezing out the rest from the riches of Europe’s elite.
Their plans, which could see the light of day as early as 2024, would mean that the current big six clubs in the Premier League would still qualify for a newly structured Champions League tournament even if they failed to achieve a top-four finish. Provided their UEFA coefficient ranking was adequate during the period 2020-21 to 2023-24, the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal or Spurs could still lineup with Europe’s elite even if they suffered a significant blip in their domestic form.
Such a format, if approved could see an end of the often gripping tussle for top four places and serve a significant blow to emerging Premier League sides who have entered the equation over the past couple of seasons.
With the Europa League set to follow suit, the likes of Sheffield United and Wolves would be left without the reward of enhanced European status for their lofty efforts. Whilst’s Newcastle United’s dreams of readmission to the Champions League funfair with their prospective new owners, may be about to hit yet another brick wall.
If the current rules were in effect this season, Leicester City would be denied a deserved return to the Champions League whilst the prospective failings of Manchester United, Spurs or Arsenal would cease to matter as their coefficient rankings would likely preserve them ahead of the Foxes.
According to the FA, the plans have been proposed to “protect elite European club revenue streams” and they would almost certainly come as a huge blow to the growing number of ambitious and prospering Premier League sides.
Alarmingly for the directors at such emerging clubs, the plans already have some powerful allies with Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli said to be banging the drum for the proposals. The 44-year-old has been on the UEFA Executive Committee since 2015 and is well placed to influence policy decisions that favour the European big boys.
Agnelli also doubted whether success stories such as Italian side Atalanta, should be permitted entry to the Champions League based on “just one great season.”
The Turin-based businessman’s snobbery didn’t stop there though He also sneered that clubs like Atalanta lack sufficient international history to be worthy of competition with Europe’s best. Such a mean-spirited attitude surely flies in the face of the principles of the sport as a competitive institution. Perhaps such a view can be ruthlessly swatted away as over-nostalgic in the modern age of high football finance. However, the damage to centuries-old domestic leagues should not be so routinely shrugged off.
Moreover, the plans, should they be ratified, would threaten to take away a cornerstone of the Premier League’s super-structure. The competitive nature and availability of riches to successful teams, be they established or new-comers, is integral to how the league has flourished. The breakaway from the old Football League in 1992 sparked one of the most remarkable success stories in modern sport as football was reborn with a more clean-cut image for the 21st century.
Should rewards for substantial league standings be taken away, it may upset the league’s competitive advantage and constantly swelling TV revenue. Teams may be more inclined to focus on consolidation rather than building for sustained success and a challenge on the top six if there is effectively no reward for doing so.
That frantic, dog-eat-dog football that makes the English top-flight such a compelling product could be seriously damaged by such a move.
Yes, the battle to stay in the division would of course remain and likely keep it’s frenetic DNA for now. However, the race of the Champions League places has been a headline feature for nearly two decades and the question remains as to how fixtures would be affected on a weekly basis if a top-four finish no longer has the same gravitas for sides like Everton and Leicester City, who have been successful interlopers in the past. Even Spurs have built up their recent success by elbowing their way into the elite in 2010.
Recent years have proven that the traditional big clubs are not as invincible as first thought with the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester United all experiencing blips. While as recently as 2015-16, Chelsea suffered a 10th place finish with Liverpool limping to 8th in the final standings. Surely the league’s competitive integrity would be damaged if such mediocrity were to be then rewarded with a place at Europe’s top table?
This proposal is surely the worst of all worlds for everyone involved. The big clubs would remain tethered to their domestic leagues while the smaller clubs stay frozen out, caught in a reality where the big-six have already partially defected to a protectionist racket run by UEFA.
Ultimately the FA will be under pressure to conform. Should such grand designs come to fruition, the insult and injury to the rest of the league would be irreversible. Worse still, their relationships with the big six could be damaged as certain matches may ultimately descend into near-testimonial bouts as the Premier League’s cash crop of fierce tribal football flounders under the forces of a ring-fenced powerful elite. A plan to resist or significantly modify them must surely be readied without delay.