Playing against loaded dice.

1 06 2011

The week following the European Cup final is precisely the right time to think about next season’s competition.

At the moment we are, theoretically at least, in the pre-pre-season period of the Welsh football calendar. This is the part of the football calendar also technically known as the “Summer Break”. The undulating excitement of Bangor’s tumultuous season finished just over three weeks ago so we should be taking it easy and basking in the glory.  Unfortunately my senses of anticipation and worry are still running symbiotically, and they’re still running at 11.

The cause of this heightened emotion is next season’s European draw. Today we have less than three weeks to wait until Monday June 20th. As I face a summer with boundless possibilities I should be adrift in waves of joy but  I can’t help worrying; will we draw a club that will hammer us? Can we do the same as XXX XXX XXXXXX? Can I actually go? (Due to work I need the second match to be the away leg).

It should be different of course. Just the knowledge that Bangor are ready to make another European voyage should be enough to keep me happy. My imagination should be flowing, my mental map of Europe should be unfolding with all the potential that  an international jet setter can visualise – The possibilities are almost endless, from the barren Arctic circle to the rocky middle east, from the foothills of the Urals to the shimmering almost mid-Atlantic. No possibility seems out-of-bounds, but – and there’s always a but – UEFA’s seeding process ends romantic thoughts with its harsh light.  Bangor’s travel possibilities are limited. Here are our potential opponents;

BATE Borisov Belarus
Maccabi Haifa Israel 
Dinamo Zagreb Croatia
Rosenborg Norway
APOEL  Cyprus
Wisła Kraków Poland
Litex Lovech Bulgaria 
Viktoria Plzeň Czech Republic
Slovan Bratislava Slovakia
Sturm Graz Austria
FK Partizan Serbia
HJK Helsinki  Finland
Ekranas  Lithuania
Maribor Slovenia
Zestafoni  Georgia (country)
Malmö FF  Sweden
Shamrock Rovers Republic of Ireland

It probably won’t be a straight choice from these 18 clubs either as they will probably regionalise the draw as well. At the moment I fancy Shamrock Rovers for a better chance of progressing, Slovenia or Bosnia for the Balkan exoticism or Austria for a chance to see the real  Harry Lime.  The other clubs are either too good or in locations that Ryanair don’t fly to.

You probably noticed Malmo in the list, they certainly leapt out at us. I looked twice and Malmo was still there. I checked on Wikipedia whether this was the same Malmo that featured in the 1979 European Cup Final.


Now what’s the cliché about the mighty falling? I have always thought that Swedish football was of a relatively high standard. I seem to remember IFK Gothenburg winning the UEFA Cup in 1987;


 I seem to remember IFK beating Man United in the mid-nineties;


And I definitely remember that Sweden did very well in the American world cup;


When I think of Swedish players I think of Glenn Stromberg, Henrik Larsson, Freddie Ljungberg, Zlatan, Dahiln, Brolin, Brilliant ……

Now the Swedish champions are considered to be  at roughly same level as the semi-pro leagues of western Europe. My vague recollections show the power of perception – the last of the matches I remembered happening actually happened about 16 year ago and 16 years is a long time in football. However even with this relative drop in standing I still  don’t want to draw Malmo, the last time Bangor drew a Swedish club we lost 11-0 on aggregate.

Malmo’s apparent fall from grace is not exactly self-inflicted. It has a great deal to do with UEFA’S ideas. In 1994 UEFA decided to restrict entry to the top table. Therefore Bangor City’s 1994 side of  Welsh champions were forced, along with the other half of Europe , into the UEFA Cup for the crime of not possessing a buoyant market television market . The same thing happened when were champions in 1995 as well. The logic behind this decision has remained ever since.

The rationale behind the move has not only remained in the thoughts of UEFA it has become entrenched. In one way you can’t blame  UEFA for thinking like this, they were partly forced into it . In the 1990s plutocrats with erudite money felt unencumbered by traditional ideas -well they hadn’t used traditional methods to make their money. They became interested in football and brought their new-fangled ideas with them. They saw the wealth created by sky and the premier league and deduced that  the next logical step in football evolution was a self-contained “European Super League”. A bulwark was needed. Hence in 1998 UEFA allowed the top leagues of Europe to start taking over allowed the once elite European Cup. First the glamourous national leagues were allowed two clubs in the revamped champions league, then it was three, now it’s four. After a bit UEFA allowed the slightly less powerful national league to have two places in the champions league to reflect fairness.

The cumulative effect of this trend is seen in next season’s draw. Twenty-two clubs from thirteen countries gain automatic qualification to the so-called “money-spinning” group stage. This means that other forty associations are left to fight for the scraps of the other 10 places. Unfortunately for the other 40 association in Europe there are also 5 big clubs from the top five national leagues waiting for them in the play-off round. In effect the clubs from 40 national leagues are fighting for 5 places at the top table of European football.

When you add the weighting of the draw to the raison d’etre of the champions league – wealth creation via sponsorship and TV deals – you end up with major problem for simple idea that motivates sport; equality of competition.

The group stage is where millions are made from six guaranteed games. When access to this money is virtually denied to at least four fifths of the clubs you won’t create an equal Europe. But then that’s always been the plan, both decisions were made to protect the interests of the rich clubs from the biggest tv markets.

Now there seems to be a self-perpetuating elite in the champions league and this is not only wrong on a moral level, it’s wrong from the angle that UEFA and the clubs are selling this bullshit to us; entertainment.  Even with Barcelona’s heavenly football the Champions League is mostly boring because the same clubs are always there, the same players are there. Or at least that’s my perception.

I decided to check whether my perception was correct so I decided to do a bit of research.  The table below features my findings, it shows which national leagues provided clubs in the last eight of the European Cup/champions league through historical periods.

Country 1956-‘66 1967-‘80 1981-‘92 1993-2000 2001-’11
Spain 14 (16%) 9 8 (8%) 9 (14%) 20 (23%)
Italy 9 (10%) 7 9 (9%) 9 (14%) 15 (17%)
England 7 (8%) 11 (10%) 7 5 27 (31%)
W. Ger / Ger 7 (8%) 11 (10%) 9 (9%) 10 (15%) 9
Scotland 5 8 3 1
Holland 5 10 (10%) 3 4 3
Czech 5 5 3
Portugal 5 5 7 5 3
Yug / Serb 5 5 5
France 4 4 5 6 6
Hungary 4 4
Austria 4 3 2
Belgium 4 5 6 2
Switzerland 3 3
Sweden 2 2 3 2
Bulgaria 1 2 3
E. Germany 1 5 2
Denmark 1 1
Greece 2 2 2 1
Turkey 1 1 2 1 2
Poland 5 1 1
USSR / Russia 4 9 (9%) 3 1
N. Ireland 1
Romania 5
Finland 1
Ukraine 2 1
Croatia 1
Norway 1
Totals 88 112 96 64 88
Top 3 37 (42%) 32 (30%) 35 (35%) 28 (43%) 62 (71%)

So what does this table tell us?

  • Firstly, certain leagues seem to be most powerful in each period (they produce the most clubs in the last eight.)
  • Secondly, historically the locations of  the most  powerful leagues change. (Any student of football history will know that this coincides with the succesful periods of different clubs in different eras –  Real Madrid in the 1950s / Inter, Milan and Benfica in the 1960s, Liverpool, Ajax and Bayern in the 1970s/’80s, Milan / Juventus in the 1980s/’90s.)
  • Thirdly, since 2000 the range of national leagues represented in the champions league last eight has been restricted – 28 national leagues supplied clubs in the last eight between 1956 and 2000, only 11 national leagues have likewise since 2000 . Therefore,  the domination of the so-called “most glamourous” leagues is almost total.

The last point shows the corrupting influence of money upon competition. The table highlights the fact that 3 national leagues virtually control champions league income; 71% of the clubs in the champions league last eight over the last decade come from 3 national leagues. In the previous four and a half decades the three/four most successful national league only produced between 30% and 45% of last eight clubs.

This is all due to UEFA’s decisions to allow the most glamourous national league more places. In modern football parlance “glamourous” is usually a synonym for “richest”. Unfortunately the decision to allow 4 clubs from the most glamourous national leagues and only one club from the “lesser nations” ossifies the divisions within European football. Whilst the most glamourous league are treated in this way there isn’t a hope for fairness. Richer clubs are simply awarded entry to the “money-spinning” group where 6 guaranteed matches guarantees money.

Divisions within national league also become ossified, only certain clubs  can improve, or maintain, their wealth. For example when good players come on the market only certain clubs can afford them. When these clubs have the better players they are more likely to qualify for the champions league again and the vicious circle continues. It’s no wonder we see the same clubs each season, the same ones keep getting the money. The only way a new club comes into contention is thanks to the passing fancy of a plutocratic owner. This is hardly the message that Platini likes to present.

The way that people are now complaining about Blatter’s corruption they seem to think that by getting rid of him the problems in world football will simply disappear. However the gross situation in the champions league suggests otherwise. It suggests that the money created malaise in football is deeply entrenched in contemporary football culture and will not stop so easily.

It all needs to change fundamentally.



2 responses

24 05 2013
I’ve had enough of monotony!!! | Llandudno Jet Set

[…] couldn’t help agreeing with the article as I’ve often had similar thoughts in the past, more than  a couple […]

10 06 2011
Who would have thought that « Llandudno Jet Set

[…] The same countries that monopolise the last eight places in the Champions League are the same countries that monopolise the higher end of the European club rankings, or to put it another way, it’s further evidence of the corruption of equality in UEFA’s competitions.  […]

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