OPINION: At last bosses are on the ball... in England at least
Hallelujah! At least that's what I first thought when I read the news that the proposed changes to the EFL '” English Football League '” had effectively been narrowed down.
The 72 Football League clubs have squashed the idea that Premier League B teams or the likes of Celtic and Rangers and Celtic could join the competition as part of a planned revamp.
But my joy at the sensible move in our own game was quickly watered down by the news that changes to the Champions League mean clubs’ tradition, rather than their current success, will suddenly be more important.
But back to the good news first.
Earlier in the season Shaun Harvey, the EFL chief executive, said the introduction of Premier League B teams had not been discounted as a possibility as part of discussions about the EFL’s Whole Game Solution.
The shake-up includes proposals to increase the number of teams to 80 — and there had been fears among traditionalists that would lead to the likes of Rangers and Celtic joining the league.
In other words, Scottish teams in an English league, although, of course, we already have Welsh teams there!
There were also fears that Premier League B teams might be invited to take part — as happens in many countries abroad — after the then FA chairman, Greg Dyke, said it would help to create better English talent.
Those worries were heightened when the newly-named and revamped Checkatrade Trophy (formerly the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy)was launched with under-23 teams from the top flight being invited to take part — though several declined.
Was this going to be the thin end of the wedge leading to similar changes in the EFL too?
Fortunately that has now been knocked on the head.
After a meeting of all 72 EFL clubs, the EFL ruled out the inclusion of Premier League B teams, clubs from non-English leagues or those outside the English football pyramid from the plans.
In effect it means that, if the plan to restructure the league as four divisions of 20 teams goes ahead, the eight extra clubs will be drawn from the National League.
So the likes of Chesterfield and Mansfield Town will not be playing Manchester City B or Hibernian or Abderdeen, for example, any time soon.
Sadly my joy and this seemingly sensible move by the 72 EFL clubs was then dampened when Uefa decided that once again money talks – and that, despite the fact football is a global game played and enjoyed by millions, the so-called elite few will always hold sway.
How else can you explain their decision to change the format of the Champions League once again.
Now four teams from England, Germany, Spain and Italy will have automatic access to the Champions League group stages. That part of the competition will also be restricted to 24 clubs.
So the so-called powerhouse or elite of European football will have two-thirds representation in the groups. Prize money is also set to rise and the coefficient system by which clubs are ranked will be altered to include a club’s historical success in the competition.
The changes have been made to pacify threats of a breakaway European super league that Uefa says would damage domestic competitions in individual nations — not to mention Uefa’s own showpiece event.
But by allowing the ‘big four’ to hold sway, all Uefa have done is increase the threat of another breakaway league — a North Atlantic League.
That could include clubs from Scotland, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and Sweden, who are fed-up at being denied equal opportunity in the Champions League.
It is thought that league, which is expected to feature 20 teams if it gets off the ground, could start as early as 2021 when the next Champions League TV broadcasting deal runs out.
There are rumours of other breakaway competitions, such as regional leagues. For example, a Balkan League including clubs from the former Yugoslavia countries and Greece and Albania has been discussed.
This is all coming about because Uefa gave into the demands of the biggest clubs.
Among them are the two Milan clubs who know that in recent years Italian clubs have done relatively poorly in the Champions League and do not deserve an automatic four places at the top table.
Talk about an Italian job!