ELITES KEEP THE POOR UNDERFOOT
Leicester versus Bruges was the tie of this Champions League round, from the neutral perspective. Not one of those stellar occasions, all super coaches and superstars, but new names and fresh faces. Later in the tournament, a familiar gathering of Europe’s grand dames will face off for the umpteenth time.
By the time the great Champions League carve-up has reached its end game, there will be about as much chance of Leicester breaking through in Europe as — well, Leicester improving on last season here.
The hijack by the ranks of the entitled is worse than we ever imagined. It involves not just the useless giants of Milan, whose misplaced sense of entitlement is now inversely proportional to their talent, but that friend of the underdog David Gill, a man whose every move seems to benefit his club, Manchester United, and their wealthy circle of friends.
Gill was among those who worked on the logistics of the Champions League cycle that will begin in 2018-19. And you’ll never guess who comes out greatly advantaged from that evaluation.
But first, Italy, the biggest winners in this new shake-up. The basics you already know. Serie “A” will soon have four teams, guaranteed, in the Champions League group stage, despite a quite disastrous record in the play-offs.
As of now, Italy get three teams into the tournament, except in six of the last seven seasons an Italian entrant has fallen in the preliminary elimination rounds.
Yet the rich kids of Serie “A”, the underachieving Milan clubs first among them, have made enough threats of a European breakaway in recent months to rattle rudderless Uefa.
So, from the season after next, half of the group stage places will be split between four countries: Spain, England and Germany — whose clubs tend to make the necessary progress through the play-offs — plus over-rated Italy.
A country that can barely merit three teams at elite level will now be entitled to one more, and no play-off required.
Yet, as with much of what Uefa do, the devil is in the details. And what details they are. On page 11 of the Uefa document announcing the new cycle, the extent of Italy’s gain can be found; or, to be precise, the extent of the gain for one club: AC Milan.
That Giorgio Marchetti, Uefa’s director of club competitions, should be one of the prime movers in the reorganisation of the Champions League co-efficients is no doubt purely coincidental.
Marchetti was born in Luino, north of Milan, was educated in Milan, and supports Milan. Not that he will have let that cloud his thinking when plotting this new course — or allowed Milan’s enormous self-regard to skew the competition in their favour.
On one sheet is the current co-efficient ranking table, which uses the period from 2011-12 to 2015-16 and is based on current form. This shows Milan in 25th place in Europe. They have fallen behind not just the continent’s aristocracy but some lesser royalty, too. Basel. Manchester City. Tottenham. Athletic Bilbao.
Against this list is another table, showing the positions after the new coefficients have been calculated, over the same period. Milan are now ninth. And what did Milan actually achieve in that five-season spell to warrant this 16-place leap? Nothing.
Domestically, Milan came second in 2011-12 and third in 2012-13 — and then collapsed. A dramatic slide down the table saw them finish eighth, 10th and seventh last season.
Their European form confirms the same downward spiral. Champions League quarter-finalists in 2011-12, defeated by Barcelona. Out to Barcelona again the following season, this time in the last 16 and beaten 4-0 at Nou Camp. And then, season 2013-14, Milan’s last in Europe.