NYON: UEFA president Michel Platini is apparently considering proposals to scrap the Europa League and compensate by doubling the size of the Champions League group stage writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Zibi Boniek, one-time team-mate of Platini with Juventus and now an influential figure within Polish football, was the first to speak more than a month ago of this possibility after a meeting ostensibly to discuss Euro 2012 which the Poles will co-host with Ukraine.
Now the prospect has been followed up in the German newspaper Bild which first floated opinion-testing proposals to reform the structure of the European club competition two years ago.
The Europa League is the fourth manifestation of a competition launched in the mid-1950s at the instigation of England’s Sir Stanley Rous, Italy’s Ottorino Barassi and Switzerland’s pools boss Ernst Thommen. Then it was intended to complement the post-war reconstruction of Europe with a competition between representative sides from cities staging industrial fairs – hence its original title of the Inter-Cities Industrial Fairs Cup.
The competition – ironically with a futuristic group stage – proved unwieldy and was immediately outstripped in popularity by the new European Champion Clubs Cup created by the French sports newspaper L’Equipe and taken over by the fledgling UEFA.
In due course the Fairs Cup also came under UEFA jurisdiction when it was retitled the UEFA Cup. The competition was later reorganised with an unwieldy group stage and the present Europa League is a rebranded refinement of that tournament. Its sporting credibility remains questionable and clubs in a number of western European countries do not give it their full-scale focus.
The former Cup-winners Cup was scrapped in 1999 and folded into the UEFA Cup and now consideration is being given to merging Champions League and Europa League with a 64-team group stage in the autumn insted of the elite event’s 32 teams. The three highest-ranked domestic leagues in Europe – currently England, Spain and Germany – would each receive six places in the expanded line-up. Four of those six places would go straight into the 64-team group stages – up from three at present – while the other spots would be filled via the play-off round. At present the fourth-placed club in each of those leagues goes into the play-off.
Any change would take place at the beginning of the new TV deal which is not expected until 2016 and would see the biggest shake-up in European club competition since the creation of the Champions League in 1992.
The decision could result in a revitalisation of domestic cup competitions. In a number of countries, including England, the winners of the equivalent of the FA Cup are given a berth in the following season’s Europa League. Under the new proposal the FA Cup winners would receive a spot in the Champions League play-off round. The English League Cup winners are also currently given a spot in the Europa League along with one other side.
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