Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sat 25 August 2007

Saturday Shout: A league for champions

I used to like Michel Platini. When I was growing up, I can specifically recall seeing him gliding around the pitch on what seemed like a cushion of air during the 1986 World Cup. His every movement had such grace, every ball he kicked seemed to go exactly where it should and every scoring opportunity he had seemed to result in a goal. The man was a legend.

You can appreciate the optimism I had, therefore, when the former French captain gained the presidency of UEFA in January this year. Here was a man who promised sensibility along with new ideas to make the European game better than it's ever been before.

How sad, then, that I should find myself this week shaking my head in disbelief at the new idea Platini has suggested. Having failed in his bid to reduce the maximum number of participating clubs per country in the Champions League from four to three, he's now produced a compromise: for one of those four teams to be the winner of that country's main cup competition.

Now at this stage I feel the need to give you some sort of tangible image of what that could mean. Going by Platini's grand scheme and based on some of the more recent FA Cup Finals, teams like West Ham, Southampton and Millwall could have come dangerously close to playing alongside the likes of Barcelona, Milan and Valencia.

Incomprehensible, you may think, to give the FA Cup winner a place in the Champions League rather than the team that finished fourth in the Premier League, but it could step closer to reality next week when Platini announces his plans officially. Yet for all the bewildering lack of logic Platini's scheme contains, there's a simple solution which I've managed to come up with.

My idea is to take away the qualification place from the team that finishes fourth, then do so for the team that finishes third and second too. What you have after that is a concept which might seem bizarre, but I think it could work. It'd be a league featuring teams from around Europe who are specifically champions in their own country. A sort of 'European Champions' League', if you will.

But here's the masterstroke. If you take the current format of the competition where the first round proper contains 32 teams, what you'd have is 32 countries from all over the continent represented - not the fifteen that took part last season. It's not easy to get much more European than that, be honest.

So here's my thoughts on your new idea, Mr. Platini: if you want to improve the diversity of the Champions League and do away with the rampant commercialism and money-mindedness that permeates the game these days, forget about cup winners - in fact forget about league runners-up. Make the Champions League a league for champions and let's get a sense of realism back in this competition.

Well now I've said all I've got to say, what are your thoughts? This is, after all, the feature where you're encouraged to put your head over the pulpit and make your thoughts known. Leave us a comment and tell me whether I'm talking sense or talking out of my... soapbox.

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