Tuesday, November 30

The renewed Champions League is a useless waste of time that will destroy the drama | Champions League


TOAfter being eliminated by Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League quarterfinals, Juventus took decisive action. What was needed, they decided, was a guarantee of goals that could turn their two defeats in the late three previous years into gold. So they bought Cristiano Ronaldo for 100 million euros, paying him more than the next four highest-paid players in the club combined, despite the fact that he was 33 years old and his individualistic immobility made him anachronistic at the elite level.

Given the choice between structural reform that could have addressed recurring problems and signing big names, of course, executives almost always lean towards the latter. It’s glamorous, it makes them feel important, and it doesn’t require any real work or understanding of football. And it will have a much greater short-term impact in the eyes of social media than the data analytics department overhaul, or scouting or recruiting improvement, or any of the other invisible vital aspects of the infrastructure.

Since Juve has left the Champions League to Ajax (annual income of 39% of Juve’s), Lyon (45%) and, on Tuesday, Porto (22%).

At the same time, they have dumped the manager who had won five league titles in a row and led them to those two Champions League finals and, following a flirtation with a grumpy, cigarette-chewing ideologue, perhaps the least likely person in world football to inspire Ronaldo’s respect, they are now led by an urban vintner who used to be a midfielder. The consequence is that, after nine years, Juve’s hold on the Serie A title appears to be coming to an end.

So naturally, the genius who has overseen this collapse, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, is the executive who, as president of the Association of European Clubs, is at the forefront of the redesign of the Champions League (although there are many others. club owners lined up behind him). It may not be entirely surprising that you are in favor of a format that ensures an income stream to the already wealthy, no matter how poorly managed they are.

In the coming weeks, it seems likely that it will be confirmed that from 2024 the Champions League will adopt the so-called “Swiss system”, with the group stage replaced by a format in which 36 teams play 10 games each, determined by heads. serial. with the top eight advancing to the round of 16 and teams between ninth and 24 contested for the other eight spots.

In other words, it will be 180 games to eliminate 12 teams, four additional games to put on a schedule already so stretched that last season Liverpool even before the Covid had to play two games in two days. A team that wins its first four games can, in effect, move on to weakened teams.

The potential for collusion, for mutually beneficial draws in recent weeks, is obvious. This is not a format to promote athletic integrity; comes from the same content-generating mindset that craves big names with no apparent idea of ​​how soccer works or what makes it special.

For the last week, there may still be a couple of problems to solve in terms of automatic progression to knockouts or to get into the top 24, but even that is the best case (and, really, does the ECA believe The World will be dominated by the best European teams from 23 to 26 that will face each other, Krasnodar and Club Brugge fighting for the right to be eliminated by Atlético de Madrid in a play-off?).

Fast guide

How UEFA’s ‘Swiss system’ could work

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First used in a Zurich chess tournament more than a century ago, the “Swiss system” has rarely appeared in elite sport, but that could change if Uefa agrees to a radical reorganization of the Uefa group stage. Champions League.

The new system would see 32 or 36 teams placed in a league, every playing 10 games against teams seeded in four different boats. the the top 16 teams would advance to the knockout stages.

The format has yet to be agreed or finalized, but it is believed that teams ranked 17-24 would fall in the Europa League. Table positions can also affect planting. for the knockout stages, with the top ranked team playing the 16th place team, and so on.

The group stage as it stands is clearly far from perfect. It’s boring and predictable and involves too many dead games. But that’s not a format problem; it’s a matter of resources and their distribution (in 2019, let’s say, Barcelona received 50% more in prizes than the other losing semi-finalist, Ajax), the fact that superclubs are so rich that they dominate everyone even when they are terribly poorly managed – despite the whole crisis in Barcelona, ​​they still have a decent chance of a national double.

Believing that the solution is to have more mindless games that will only widen football’s financial disparities is like thinking that the best way to repair a broken metatarsal is to stomp on it. In this year’s group stage, Real Madrid at least came under some pressure, losing to Shakhtar and then drawing to Borussia Mönchengladbach. Still they ended up leading the group, but four games to fix it, there was doubt; with eight games, there would be little sense of danger at all.

The Swiss system isolates the elite and vitally generates content from which they can generate even more income and further protect themselves against the consequences of dire decisions. We are cheerfully told that it works well in chess. Which may be true, but then the rich chess players can’t go out and buy a bunch of queens from the poorer chess players who have been structurally damaged by the system.

Juve’s loss to Porto this week was an example of what top-level European football can be. There was quality and drama, brilliance and stupidity, joy and sadness. Because it mattered. Because there was a sense of danger. Because in the end, a team passed and a team came out. Contrast that with Juve’s futile away win at the end of the group stage against Barcelona – it may have been a superclub clash, perhaps even the final encounter of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on a soccer field, but three months later hardly anyone can remember it.

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These commitments, supposedly, are necessary to avoid the threat of a super league. Maybe this grotesque chimera will do it for a while. But to what end and at what cost? It will generate meaningless football that will exacerbate the fundamental problem of inequality within the game. At some point, UEFA has to act in favor of football and say that football is a sport, not a revenue machine that produces content for the very rich.

Call your bluff. Let go of the super clubs. And with Agnelli at the helm, watch them fly.


www.theguardian.com

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