Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 13 November 2006

Platini v Johansson

This January, UEFA will hold an election to find a new President and it looks set to be a straight head-to-head battle between existing President, Lennart Johansson and Michel Platini.

Johansson is the 76-year-old Swede who has been at the top of the UEFA tree since 1990. Despite his advanced years, many feel he’s the man for the job until 2009 having steered the European governing body through some tricky times over the last sixteen years.

Platini is a former member of the French team that gained a worldwide reputation for playing entertaining and skilful football during the 1980’s and is generally regarded as one of the all-time legends of the game. Since retiring from football, Platini has helped organise the successful 1998 World Cup in his home country and become the chairman of FIFA’s Technical and Development Committee.

While some may see Platini’s arrival as the chance to elect a new man with new ideas, others are approaching the Frenchman’s candidacy campaign with caution, and all because of one key issue.

Both men have gone on record to state their views on the Champions League, and more specifically, the international make-up of those teams that take part. Platini was the first to put forward his thoughts, and they immediately raised a number of eyebrows among the European football community.

Platini feels that the Champions League should restrict the number of clubs entering from each country to a maximum of three. At the moment, Italy, England and Spain are allowed to enter four teams, purely on the basis of the financial stability that they bring to the organisation. Lennart Johansson has opposed this, favouring the current system for that very reason, but Platini thinks that every associate member of UEFA isn’t properly represented.

“Four clubs are too many - for the country itself, the fans and TV rights. Three should be the limit. There are not enough national champions in the last 32 of the tournament and that cannot be right." However, Platini added that "I am not so stupid as to want to change the current format”

Putting the Frenchman’s slightly illogical footnote to one side for a moment, it’s a contentious issue. My personal thoughts are perhaps a little old-fashioned but no doubt reflect a considerable number of people in that I tend to favour Platini. In actual fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Champions League should be just that - a competition whereby only the league champions from each European country take part, not even the runners-up and teams finishing third.

A solution to the problem would be to rename the title of the Champions League to something like the ‘European Premier League’, thus relieving it of its specificity. Not as catchy, I’ll grant you, but it’d be one solution.

As we all know though, that’s not going to happen, so we’re left with the prospect of a Champions League with ‘only’ three teams from each country. Personally, I think it’s a workable scheme and just requires a refined version of the ranking system currently used for the competition. In addition, any thoughts of seeing the likes of SK Tirana taking the place of Liverpool (shock horror) can be dismissed thanks to the rigorous qualifying competition that’s already in place.

One still has to wonder how many privileges the bigger countries in UEFA really want. Why, for instance, should a smaller country be denied their chance to enter their champion team in favour of a decent also-ran from Italy, Spain or England? How will they be able to develop when the big teams are constantly shutting the door on them?

It seems Mr Johansson is only interested in fleecing as much cash for his organisation as he can. I suggest with a bit of imagination and a mind towards fair play, he and his associates can come up with a reformed version of the Champions League competition that keeps many of UEFA’s member nations happy and reclaims some of the tradition that’s been discarded in recent years.

If Lennart Johansson doesn’t, maybe one day Michel Platini will, and that could make Champions League competitions altogether different in the future.

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