The last UEFA Cup final before its latest rebranding exercise should be an occasion to
savour. Only it isn't.
Rangers fans to drink a large metropolitan area dry and scrap amusingly with
police, few Britons are even aware there is a 'major' European final tonight.
Of its many
problems, the UEFA Cup's most serious is that its current format is so arduous it
virtually guarantees that no team worth their salt is able to take it
Finalists Bremen have long been
heading for a mid-table finish in the Bundesliga, enabling them to pick a
full-strength side in every match.
that to Aston Villa, whose manager Martin O'Neill decided he was simply unable
to juggle the club's bid for a top-four Premier League finish with a European
campaign that could have stretched to 19 games. And it turned out he was right.
their wisdom, have reacted to this fixture constipation by making the group
stage even longer and cementing the competition's status as the Champions
League's dowdy, unglamorous sibling.
minted UEFA Europa League is so rubbish it is not even Dannii Minogue to the
Champions League's Kylie.
Hilton to the Champions League's Paris.
Or even Paul Ross to the Champions League's Jonathan.
if Brad Pitt had a younger brother with a face like the rear end of a rhinonerous who
lived in a bin around the back of the Brangelina mansion, that would roughly
sum up the relationship between the two competitions.
Bremen and Shakhtar Donetsk are not very
glamorous at the best of times, but any exotic mystique has been well and truly
exploded by both teams' frequent appearance in, and elimination from, the
Champions League group stage.
have already proven not up to scratch in Europe
this season, having dropped out of the Champions League after coming third out
of four teams.
already established that Bremen are worse than
Internazionale and Panathinaikos, and that Shakhtar cannot hold a candle to Barcelona and Sporting
parachute system is a blatant admission that there are too many decent sides in
the Champions League and not enough in the UEFA Cup.
unsuited to competing with the top dogs are ushered out at Christmas and told:
'Thanks for coming, here's a goody bag, now off you go to a competition where
you actually belong.'
Platini's plan to reduce the number of Champions League places for the biggest
countries is a good one.
Only England can regularly
provide four genuine contenders, and even in the Premier League's case it
wouldn't exactly hurt to see one of the Big Four suffer the angst of missing
out on the occasional massive payday.
tournament proper should start with 128 teams (roughly the number who are still
in contention at the present second qualifying round) and take the form of a
straight two-leg knockout.
would still have to play plenty of football, negotiating seven rounds and 13
the main consequence of this would be a lot less games, which is why it would
probably never fly in real life.
But the bean
counters might consider that, under ED's system, every match counts. How does
it help revenues to have deserted stadia and uninterested broadcasters?
audiences cannot get enough football. Premier League rights are worth hundreds
of millions of pounds, while ITV happily shunt their prime time schedule out of
the way to accommodate a dead group stage game between Manchester United and Aalborg.
Yet at the
same time, UEFA Cup matches involving decent sides like Aston Villa and Manchester City are shunted onto obscure digital
channels - if they are lucky.
indifference to the UEFA Cup is profound, and here is ED's six-point plan to
put things right.
1 - Reinstate
a 128-team, two-leg knockout tournament played over seven rounds. No group
2 - No away
3 - No places
for losers from Champions League group stage.
Champions League allocation trimmed by one for major leagues, ensuring better
teams in the UEFA Cup.
5 - UEFA
Cup winners awarded with Champions League place.
6 - 'Europa
League' name abolished and erased, Men In Black-style, from everybody's memory.
- - -
The calls for Arsene Wenger's head from some Arsenal fans after four trophyless
seasons are as boneheaded as they are barking. As ignorant as they are impetuous,
and as mad as they are moronic.
obviously made mistakes. His lack of love for players over 30 is baffling, as
is his seeming inability to sort out his defence. And the less said about Franny
Jeffers the better.
could also quiz Alex Ferguson on why he once considered Roy Carroll a worthy successor
to Peter Schmeichel, and spent £28 million on Juan Sebastian Veron. The point
is, all managers make mistakes.
fourth place finishes in the Premier League and 'only' reaching the Champions
League semi-finals might not represent the glut of silverware Gooners desire.
what would happen with a manager with less ability to unearth gems for minimal
cost, less authority to stand up to the board, and without a reputation that
makes Arsenal the preferred destination for youngsters around the world.
honestly think they would stay in the Big Four for long? Could they really stay
ahead of a youthfully exuberant Aston Villa, a superbly disciplined Everton and
a filthy, filthy, FILTHY rich Manchester
not yet discovered the new Patrick Vieira, but has anyone? ED would suggest
there is not a player in his early 20s anywhere in the world with the
Frenchman's combination of physical strength, technique and intelligence.
And if Vieira
mark II ever does appear, ED would back Wenger above every other manager in the
game to bring him to his club. It is not Arsenal who attract outstanding
youngsters, it is Wenger.
fans really want to see how they would get on without him, there are plenty of
clubs willing to take him off their hands.
- - -
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Dimitar Berbatov: "I am still nervous but, when you play
for the biggest club in the world, you are sometimes shaking before you go on
the pitch. Sometimes I show it with my hands or by screaming on the
pitch." Dimitar Berbatov Screaming on the pitch? When?
FOREIGN VIEW: Marca are up to their usual tricks. A Portuguese bank has used
Cristiano Ronaldo to front its publicity campaign in Spain, so he must be about to sign
for Real. And David Villa was spotted in Madrid
yesterday, so he must be about to sign for Real.
COMING UP: See above for ED's world-weary take on proceedings, but it is a
European final so you'd do well to follow it. Bremen
v Shakhtar Donetsk from 19:45 UK