Early Doors

UEFA must halt Champions League expansion proposals

Platini's Champions League tug-of-war

It is appropriate that UEFA's decision to seriously investigate expanding the Champions League to 64 teams should be immediately followed by an evening of final-round group matches that mean absolutely nothing.

ED wishes it was joking. Group A is settled, with Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid through at the expense of Manchester City and Ajax, while groups B, C and D are nit-picky affairs with draw seedings and the odd Europa League place at stake.

There is almost nothing worth watching, and it is a direct result of the utter tosh that UEFA allows into the group stages, tosh such as Dinamo Zagreb (nul points), and FC Nordsjælland (un point).

Everyone knows the Europa League is near-pointless until the quarter-finals stage, yet UEFA's solution is to make the Champions League more like the Europa League. Definition of insanity, etc.

At the end of last week, European football's self-proclaimed gatekeepers mimicked their political counterparts in proclaiming federalism as the solution to the sport's problems.

And there are many problems, mostly economic, and many related to the inflated market that European competition indirectly encourages.

Clubs such as Malaga, for example, so obsessed with chasing the holy grail that is Champions League qualification that they spend themselves to oblivion and put their very participation in such tournaments in serious jeopardy.

Clubs such as Leeds United, still suffering the effects of their profligate spell in the big time as they lurch from one takeover to the next in England's lower divisions.

Entire regions — such as the Balkans — are riddled with criminality, intimidation and racketeering in football, with a combination of corruption and ineptitude in local administrators seeing players banned from the sport and threatened with jail for daring to expose match-fixing at FIFPro conferences (this actually happened in Serbia recently).

Indeed, the majority of professional Spanish clubs — in debt, in crisis, in administration — are teetering on the brink of extinction as a private TV deal allows the big clubs to swallow the lion's share of revenue, perpetuating an old-boy's cartel to European qualification that can only be broken by excessive spending — neatly bringing us back to Malaga.

With the exception of the Spanish TV question — a prime example of capitalism's existential question of the free market vs the oligopoly — many of these problems are self-inflicted, or could at least have been prevented by some good old-fashioned German efficiency.

The EU analogy works here too — it's all very well lending countries like Greece the odd hundred billion euros, but if they don't operate under Germany's house rules the equation that justified the lending doesn't hold. As Greece's economy falls to pieces, with no-one apparently willing to accept responsibility for a nationwide epidemic of tax avoidance and account-fiddling, so do its top clubs: AEK can't afford to stay in hotels before matches, and Panathinaikos can't even pay the electricity bills.

With most of European football unable to keep its house in order, expanding the Champions League to a 64-team competition of League Cup runners-up, divisional also-rans, fair-play award winners and the occasional league champion will be disastrous.

Are we really to expect jobbing teams from, say, Macedonia — where match-fixing and racketeering enforced by multi-purpose criminal gangs are national pastimes — to keep their noses clean when offered a nice packet to throw the odd goal in six when drawn against a Bundesliga side in a EuroLeague pre-qualifier?

Do we really expect a bloated Champions-lite to retain the same impact, fan interest and indeed sponsor interest when half the matches are huge games between the likes of BATE Borisov and CFR Cluj?

Then there is the sporting argument, easier on the eye and easier for the innumerate ED to argue. Only three of eight groups are of genuine interest going into the final round of matches, all concerning second place.

The Champions League is already bloated. The decision to operate a separate 'Champions play-off' draw for qualification has not worked, and tonight's plethora of dead rubbers should be evidence enough that the format should be reduced, not expanded.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "That is not true at all. There's nothing more irritating than superficial information nowadays. It would be better that people are a bit responsible for what they write. I take my responsibilities, but informing people in the wrong way is bad as well and it's time for some people to realise that" — does he not like that! Arsene Wenger responds to claims that Arsenal assistant Steve Bould led an angry dressing-room interest after the Swansea defeat.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Neither I nor the president are going to say a word. My future is tomorrow, which is my 101st match in the Champions League. Ask him. I don't have to tell you what I talk to the president about. My relationship with him is good and I've already said that. I'm not going to feed this situation" — Jose Mourinho gets the hump with reports in Real Madrid's beloved Marca claiming he will leave in the summer after falling out with Florentino Perez.

COMING UP: Manchester City's Champions League Group D match at Borussia Dortmund sort of matters in that City could sneak into the Europa League if they win and Ajax lose to Real Madrid. All very dead-rubbery though. Live comments on that and all the others from 7.45pm. Before that, blogger Paul Parker will offer his view on football's talking points.