UEFA move damages football
To guarantee CHRIS DUNLAVY says the decision in the four places to Europe’s big leagues underdogs Champions League is killing off the
THIRTY years ago, on a cloying, claustrophobic night in Andalucia, Helmuth Duckadam leapt into history. Pitted against the might of Terry Venables’ Barcelona in the European Cup final, Steaua Bucharest’s 27-year-old goalkeeper stood firm for 120 minutes. Not even Steve Archibald could find a way through.
Then, when the shootout came, the Transylvanian with the intense eyes and lustrous moustache saved every single penalty.
A skilled poker player, Duckadam had used his knowledge of game theory to guess which side the Catalans’ players would shoot. His strikers did the rest.
Barca were beaten. Steaua were European champions. And Duckadam – who wouldn’t play again for three years due to a blood disorder – would forever be known as the Hero of Seville.
“Nobody can ever take that incredible night away from me,” said the 57-year-old, whose life after football has been a tragic tale of poverty, ill-health and family strife.
“To experience such emotions I would be ready to lose everything else all over again. Of course, people are dreaming of fortunes, money, big houses, cars. But my memories will always be my fortune and for this I am the lucky man.”
Such stories are the lifeblood of our sport. European football is the pinnacle of the game, but we love to see it scaled by underdogs, artisans and fly-by-night heroes.
Milan and Madrid may earn our admiration but men like Duckadam steal our hearts. The story of Steaua, and of Red Star Belgrade’s 1991 triumph, endures precisely because it was so unexpected.
Which is why this week’s much-heralded ‘evolution’ of the Champions League is so deeply depressing.
UEFA have announced that, as of the 2018-19 season, England, Italy, Germany and Spain will each be guaranteed four places in the group stages. Here’s general secretary Theodore Theodoridis explaining why the changes are a paradigm of fairness and equality.
“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions,” he said.
“We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”
What? That’s like giving more Red Brick university places to private schools and arguing it benefits inclusivity.
Fair competition? Solidarity? Sporting merit? What’s fair about gifting HALF of the 32 available places to just four countries?
Where’s the solidarity in leaving the other 51 European nations to scrap gracelessly for the remaining 16?
Where’s the merit in elevating a side that scraped into fourth above a team that won its domestic league?
We might laugh at the Americans and their baseball ‘World’ series but, the way things are going, the European Cup is becoming just as big a joke.
Of course, we all know the real reason for these changes.
Conscious of the financial chasm that has developed between the Premier League and everyone else, Europe’s biggest clubs have been lobbying UEFA to give them a bit of security.
By lobbying, of course, I mean threatening to take their ball away and form a breakaway European ‘Super League’, that hoary old chestnut wheeled out whenever the big boys want to get their own way.
In essence, they don’t want to spend the vast sums on wages and transfer fees required to compete with the English clubs without the safety net of a bumper European windfall.
That is why, along with near-guaranteed entry, UEFA have also pledged a “significant” increase in prize money.
Which, obviously, is great for them. But for those locked out of this cash-generating cartel, it’s an unmitigated disaster.
UEFA says that ‘historical success in the competition’ would be used to calculate where a national league sits in its ranking, weighted in favour of recent exploits.
But how can Romania or Bulgaria ever hope