Only The Big Clubs Win The Cup
Manchester United and Liverpool are strongly opposed to changing the format of the Champions League. It's not because of the self-interest of the big clubs, according to Rick Parry, the Scousers' chief executive.
UEFA president Michel Platini, full of grand plans for revitalising European football and taking it out of the grasp of the most powerful clubs, has still not given up on radical changes. His latest plans are signs of a retreat, however.
First, he came out and said he would love to reduce the number of clubs qualifying for the Champions League from the most powerful leagues. That was met with strong opposition from everywhere (in Spain, Italy and England, I mean) so now he wants them to retain four spots but one of the four teams would be the winner of their respective domestic cup.
'The most opposed to those proposals were Liverpool and Manchester United; they do not want to see a change to the format at all,' said William Gaillard, UEFA communications director and chief advisor of Michel Platini.
'Across the top seven countries however opinion was mixed. The Italians are strongly in favour because they want to revamp their cup competition; the Spanish and the French said it should be up to their FAs to decide, while the Germans were split among themselves.
'The clubs from the smaller countries were generally in agreement.'
That's no surprise but Sir Alex Ferguson believes it's no good - and he's supported by a Scouser in that claim!
'I don't agree with it. The Champions League is for what you do in the league. You can win the FA Cup ... playing nobody up until the final. Or the semi-final at least. Does that warrant entry into the Champions League?' he told the Observer.
His thoughts are reflected by the words of Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry, too.
'Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle all feel the same way,' he told the official website of Liverpool.
'It's not a question of self-interest by the big clubs.
'It's just more of a lottery in the cup.
'There is a strong feeling the Champions League place should be based on Premier League performance.'
Or, in the case of the fifth-placed team, on a long campaign of begging to let the holders in despite their failure to overtake Everton who had about 16 players in their squad that season...
But all right, the holders' place in the Champions League should not be questioned and it's good that the rules have set it right since that. Fergie and Parry are right that the cup is a lottery, of course but that's not the most important point.
The plan's main thought is that smaller clubs would do their utmost to win the cup because that could grant them the financial heaven of the Champions League (though they would have to play qualifiers: cup winner wouldn't get automatic qualification for the group stage). But is that necessary in England, where the cup is still considered an important competition by many?
It's prestige is less than it used to be but still, it's way ahead of the ridiculous Italian Cup, or the French Cup, not to mention the Copa del Rey. But that's still not the point.
The point is that you should look at the list of the winners. Under the proposed regulations, the runner-up could not qualify: if the winner qualified through league position, the next-placed team could enter the Champions League as the cup winner.
So, who won the cup in recent years?
2004: Manchester United
1999: Manchester United
1996: Manchester United
Yes, I deliberately stopped here, knowing that Everton would be the next in the line. Chelsea of course did not qualify for the Champions League in 1997 and in 2000 but still: the only cup winner who did not qualify for Europe's premier club competition in the past decade is Chelsea, who are now firmly part of the so-called Big Four.
So, does it make any sense to grant qualification through the cup when the same teams will be in the Champions League? Well, it's worth a try for Platini and co., a smaller team does have more chance of winning the cup than finishing fourth in the league. But Parry also revealed that the Premier League is opposed to the idea so Platini must expect a real fight if he's determined to introduce it.