My views about re-shaping the European pyramid have been criticized on this blog and elsewhere.
The details of the proposed structure are set out in several earlier posts, dating back to May 2008:
- Transnational European Leagues
- Proposals For A European League
- A British League
- Atlantic League
- How The Game Has Changed
- British League – An Outline
- Building A Pyramid
To summarize (click to enlarge):
A regional league could be as narrow as an Atlantic or British League (as previously discussed) or as broad as a Northern European League, comprising British and Scandinavian countries. However, each country can only be linked with one regional league.
Promotion & relegation
There would be promotion and relegation both within the divisions in each tier, and between the bottom divisions of each tier and the top divisions of the tier below. For example:
- Between the Regional Leagues and the European League:
- The top clubs from the various Regional Leagues would play the following season in a hybrid mini-league/knock-out competition (along the lines of the Champions League) and the four semi-finalists would be promoted the season after to the lower division of the European League.
- The number of clubs from each Regional League that qualify for the cup competition will be based on a points system similar to the UEFA coefficient currently in use, with a minimum of 2 from each Regional League. The points for a Regional League would be the sum of the points for all the countries linked to that league.
- The bottom four clubs of the lower division of the European League would be relegated to the top division of the Regional league to which their country is linked. There may need to be some adjustments of numbers, but this can be achieved in the same way adjustments are currently made when clubs are promoted from the top divisions of domestic regional leagues to a higher level with fewer divisions.
- Between the domestic leagues linked to a Regional League and the Regional League. Similar to above. Taking Regional League A for example:
- The top clubs from domestic leagues C1, C2, C3 and C4 would play the following season in a hybrid mini-league/knock-out competition and the four semi-finalists would be promoted the season after to the lower division of Regional League A.
- The number of clubs from each domestic league that qualify for the cup competition will also be based on a points system similar to the UEFA coefficient currently in use, with a minimum of 2 from each country.
- The bottom four clubs of the lower division of Regional League A would be relegated to the top division of their domestic league. There may need to be some adjustments of numbers, but this can be achieved in the same way adjustments are currently made when clubs are promoted from the top divisions of domestic regional leagues to a higher level with fewer divisions.
Each country’s coefficient would take into account the performance of its clubs in:
- The European League
- The Europe-wide cup competitions
- The Regional Leagues
- The Region-wide cup competitions
You could conceivably have the leagues of individual countries not linked to a Regional League, and instead having its top team(s) seeking promotion directly to the European League, but it’s coefficient would have to be high enough for it to qualify for the Europe-wide cup competition, which would effectively limit it to the strongest countries. I’ll leave this possibility aside for now.
Some aspects of participation in domestic cups, league cups and divisional cups, are dealt with in the earlier posts. These would be as follows:
- Every club from a country, whichever league they are currently playing in, will play in that country’s domestic cup, for example, the FA Cup in England. The traditions of some of the oldest football competitions will be maintained.
- Every club from a league will play in that league’s cup competition. For the leagues the European and Regional Leagues (with only 2 divisions), it could be a hybrid mini-league/knock-out competition (along the lines of the Champions League). For domestic leagues (especially those with more than 2 divisions), it could be a straight knock-out competition. Club’s that qualify for the Europe-wide or region-wide cup competitions may be exempted. Many Euroepan domestic leagues already have league cups. The expanded form for the European and Regional Leagues provides an incentive for clubs in the second division of those leagues.
- For leagues with that have a straight knock-out league cup (domestic leagues), optional divisional cups, with the winners of the top division’s divisional cup qualifying for the region-wide cup competition, and winners of the the divisional cup in lower divisions taking one of the promotion spots. The divisional cups would be a hybrid mini-league/knock-out competition. This replaces the play-offs used by several European domestic leagues. There would be no need for divisional cups in the European and Regional Leagues, as their league cups would be in the expanded form.
The advantages of the structure proposed above:
- The European League is part of a broader European pyramid, instead of a break-away by top clubs. It builds on existing structures in a rational manner, serving to integrate European football league, without more radical changes or the risk of breakaway leagues.
- With more tiers/levels, clubs can more readily find their right level. Each level would be more competitive. Further, clubs are less likely to over-extend themselves in order to rise or remain at a higher level which in reality may be beyond them in the longer term.
- The top European clubs won’t have the unfair advantage of two substantial revenue streams (the domestic league and the Champions League), which their domestic rivals don’t have. (I should make clear that the few clubs in each top flight not having an additional source of income is not the same thing as them earning less. What with a guaranteed 30 to 38 matches against other top European clubs, incomes are likely to be greater, what with bigger crowds, more TV money and more merchandising, while not having to maintain extra large squads to deal with competing on multiple fronts. The point I am making is more about a level playing field than about income levels).
- Potentially big European clubs in smaller countries, such as Ajax, Rangers and Celtic, don’t have to continue suffering the limitations of being big fish in small ponds.
- There should be no need for parachute payments, or other financial distortions to fair sporting competition on a level playing field.
- With better competition at each level, clubs, especially those at the higher levels, are likely to earn more, as described above.
The proposed structure avoids the weaknesses of the current structure, or recent proposals to enhance the current structure as reported in the media, including:
- A “Champions” League not confined to champions, and with a league stage that only serves to reduce the number of teams from 32 to 16, thereby merely increasing the number of games without any real benefit to the competitiveness of the competition. There is also the weakness of European champions decided by what is largely a knock-out competition (with the luck of the draw, and only needing to do well in a limited number of games) as opposed to a league competition.
- A bloated and second-rate UEFA Cup.
- The half-baked proposal for a two-tier Premier League in England.
- Another half-baked proposal for Premier League clubs to play a 39th game each season in a foreign market.
To expand on the financial implications, the continuing risk of European clubs over-extending themselves in reliance on extraneous sources of revenue such as TV money and foreign markets, has been addressed previously on this blog. The risk is of clubs, including several top clubs, spending more in the present than they can afford to in a strict accounting sense in expectation of substantially greater revenues in the future.
“However, with increasing international competition between sports markets, such increases in future revenue are far less certain than over-extended clubs need, with the risk of a future implosion in the European football market as great as ever, notwithstanding UEFA’s financial fair play rules.”
A broader European pyramid as described above would allow European football to develop its market internally, without its current over-reliance on extraneous sources of revenue such at TV money and foreign markets, which, in the longer term, are not as reliable as those with a financial interest in European football might imagine.
The politics of making the proposed structure a reality
Somewhat surprisingly, while I believe that the European Club Association (ECA) is more likely than the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) is to take on FIFA on the issue of players having to be made available for an ever-increasing number of internationals, despite all the past talk of a break-away European League, I doubt the ECA have any great interest in pushing for a re-structuring of the European pyramid. As I said before:
Why isn’t the European Club Association pushing harder for a European league? A European league may mean greater profits, but it also means greater risk, and those in a dominant position are often risk-averse. Those that dominate prefer the status quo with minor tinkering at most, as it preserves the system on which their domination is founded.
In fact, it is more in the interests of the EPFL, and to a lesser extent, UEFA, to take on board the above proposal for a broader European pyramid, for it strengthens their hand vis-à-vis the most powerful clubs in Europe.
The proposal also serves ideals on which the European Union was founded:
- Open markets.
- Level playing field.
- Eliminating market distortions.
Perhaps the EU should take a greater interest.