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

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CHAMPIONS LEAGUE -

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

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