ELITES KEEP THE POOR UN­DER­FOOT

The Star (Kenya) - - Sports -

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.

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