As the Champions League millions continue to concentrate power on the few, producing predictable outcomes at a continental and certainly domestic level, I argue itâs time UEFA bring back the three-tournament set-up in order to reignite competition across the continent.
Itâs a soggy night in Rotterdam, 15 May 1991. Manchester Unitedâs Mark Hughes sprints away in celebration having rounded FC Barcelona âkeeper Busquets and hammered home an incredible goal from the tightest of angles.
Unitedâs win marked a victorious first season back in European football for English clubs, who had been banned since the 1985 Heysel tragedy. BarÃ§a had beaten Juventus in the semi-finals, so the tournament had a line-up not uncommon in the latter stages of the current Champions League tournament.
At the same time, the UEFA Cup was still a tough competition to win â not a table format a la Europa League â just the classic home and away legs.
âRemember, away goals count double,â Clive Tydesley would remind us. Oh, the jeopardy!
Then 1992 happened. UEFA opened the Champions League up to non-champions, and the UEFA Cup-Winnersâ Cup went into decline. Lazio won the last edition at Villa Park in 1999, before it was absorbed into the Europa League.
The rich get richerâ¦
Since then weâve seen the best players from the smaller clubs defect in greater numbers to the richer clubs and leagues. Gone are the days when you could see Nottingham Forest v MalmÃ¶, or Red Star Belgrade v Marseille vying to be European champions.
As the riches of the Champions League has concentrated power in a small number of clubs, domestic football suffers as a result. One of my most popular posts argued that hegemonies will strangle the game, as you need competition to keep a spectacle alive.
At the time of writing, Bayern Munich has won the last five Bundesliga titles; Juventus has won the last six Serie A scudetti; Only AtlÃ©tico Madrid has broken the Madrid-BarÃ§a duopoly in Spainâs La Liga in the last 13 seasons; you have to go back to 1984-85 season for the last winner of the Scottish top flight that wasnât the Old Firm.
Basically, as this New York Times post states, in many countries âthese are no longer title races. They are simply processions, their results preordained, entire seasons stripped of drama and intrigue.â
How UEFA could redistribute wealth
So, weâve argued that the Champions League format is creating hegemonies at a continental and national level, damaging the game as a spectacle in those countries. In fact, in England, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal and Belgium, attendances fall for European competitions compared to domestic games.
How could UEFA create more competition while simultaneously distributing wealth more evenly and boosting the credibility of domestic cup competitions? How could it restore the exclusivity of the second tournament, the Europa League?
My advice would be to go back to the old three-tournament format and bring back the UEFA Cup-Winnersâ Cup. That way money would be spread out across a wider field, restoring purchasing power and therefore competition to domestic and continental competitions.