Unsurprisingly Arsene is up before the beaks, given until the end of the month to justify his liar comments. Next time, Arsene learn from Mourinho and tell a Referee that he is the product of a night’s work for his mother down behind Kings Cross. That is apparently a perfectly acceptable assessment of the said officials family lineage. Indeed it is my growing opinion that Arsene believes Mourinho’s approach to relieving pressure on the players by attacking all and sundry, is the correct one to follow. Having picked on an official, he rightly apportioned a considerable amount of blame for Henry’s injuries onto the amount of football played since 2004, highlighting the French Managers decision to play Henry in a Friendly for the full ninety minutes a matter of some four weeks after the World Cup Final. However, in doing so he riled two legends of Football. Michel Platini, a legend on the pitch, took up the cudgels to query why Arsene blamed a match seven months ago and proved he had missed the point totally, rather stupidly pointing out that Henry had played for Arsenal three days later. Firstly Michel, small point. Thierry Henry is an employee of Arsenal FC. Not the French Federation. Not UEFA. Not FIFA. Arsenal. It is his obligation to play for his club. He considers it an honour to play for his Country. International Friendlies are dead in the water, Michel, get over it. And more importantly, understand that nobody, I repeat, nobody cares about your organisation. We only care about matters on the pitch impacting on our club. That you can have some influence on them is the only reason for tolerating you. And that by the looks of things will not be lasting much longer. Raymond Domenech meanwhile whinged like a schoolboy whose favourite Playstation game is broken, moaning that Wenger is picking on him and he is fed up with it. A Legend In His Own Lunchtime, Domenech tells us that he is not prepared to put up with it any more. Neither are we when players come back injured or lethargic, or both, following on from internationals that we frankly don’t care about.
Back to Platini. His honeymoon period seems to be over; one topic and nonsense spouted about it constantly. He is making Blatter look like a deeply intellectual man and that Dear Reader is a very scary thought. How long before the mis-attributed quote, “Sepp Blatter has 50 new ideas before breakfast – and 51 of them are bad”, is applied to Platini? Having shot from the lip in his Election Campaign, Platini was then shot down in flames by the rules and regulations surrounding the ECL which stymied his plan to reduce the number of entrants from the ‘Big’ Nations to a total of three each, including the holders if applicable.
So in true Blatter-esque style, if you are held back by the rules, apply The American Breed route to making a plan work by “bend them, break them and shape them anyway you want them”. His latest plan is not so much a plan, more a stream of conciousness, the likes of which have not been seen since Shaun Ryder disappeared off of the musical radar. At least Ryder had the excuse of excessive drug ingestion, I am not sure what Platini’s rationale is other than he has a huge debt to pay to the lower and mid-range European Football Associations who got him elected.
The latest version of Platini’s “Plan” is two – fold. His first idea is that third and fourth placed teams in the ‘Big’ Nations be drawn together so that only one qualifies into the Group Stages. They would be replaced by a mid-range Nations team, presumably expected to overcome their smaller counterparts. And then he proves that he has learnt much from Blatter in his time as an Adviser to the FIFA President. Instead of putting this idea out for debate, he muddies the waters by suggesting that the teams from England, Spain and Italy can be drawn against each other which actually solves nothing other than potentially allowing (a) the Qualifying Stages to have some ‘big’ matches in them and (b) will severely irk the FA’s and Clubs of those Nations when they find that for example, Liverpool and Arsenal have knocked out Real Madrid and Valencia leaving only Barcelona and Sevilla in the ECL Group phases. I am sure that the defeated two Spanish teams would welcome playing eighty-five matches in trying to get to the UEFA Cup Final. And that still leaves four English Clubs in the Competition, all likely to be seeded in the Group phase and all likely to qualify for the knockout stages at the expense of those clubs from the ‘Smaller’ Nations. This is of no consequence to Platini though as all he wants is for them to be in the Group Phase. When talking of his plan to fix the Qualifiers so that this type of tie happens, he shows a distinct lack of sympathy for the larger clubs as he states,
“My problem is that they play against smaller teams [in the Qualifiers] now”
Perhaps someone ought to give Platini a quick Economics lesson. Remove the larger Clubs from the equation and you remove a large supporter base from being interested in the Competition. Achieve that aim and suddenly your Sponsors and Broadcasters find a large part of their potential audience missing. Will they be prepared to accept this on the same or more expensive terms? No. In creating the ECL, UEFA gave birth to a huge cash generating monster. It has been kind to the G-14 Clubs but is now a cruel mistress to a President who wants to make football more egilatarian through affirmative action against those Clubs whose very presence is the Competitions lifeblood.
Fearless though Platini is. He plans to invoke a widespread and bitter fight with the G-14, something that will win the heart of Blatter. No doubt his supporters will present the following as Romanticism, detractors view it as Naivete,
“We want to add some countries to the competition and to do that we have to take something away. I’m not sure that the fourth club in Spain, Italy and England are more important that the champions of Poland, the Czech Republic and Denmark. This is not about making money, as if it was we would have six teams from England, Spain, Italy and Germany.”
All very laudible and 99% of it wrong. The Champions of any Country are worthy, rewarded for a seasons endeavours. Perhaps Michel could change the format and include them in the Group Phase instead of the Runners-Up from England, Spain, Italy and Germany. Using his logic, surely Champions are more worthy than Also-Rans? But to say that “this is not about money” is breathtaking stupidity. Of course it is about money. If it were not, then the Champions League would not have come into existence. If it were not, the UEFA Committee responsible for the tournament would not have pointed out to him that he could not change the format until 2010 at the earliest because of the commitments given in Sponsorship and Broadcasting deals.
And it is not just the ECL that the money dominates. The UEFA Cup now includes a ludicrous and pointless Group Stage, driven by the success of the Group Phase in ensuring that the top seeds qualify in the Bigger Sibling tournament. Now teams are drawn into eight Groups of five and play each other once, not even home and away. Only UEFA could come up with such a half-arsed attempt at a Competition. Actually that is not true as FIFA are equally adept at this.
Yet there are solutions which do not penalise the G14 and their ilk so severely. The Group Phase should include the Champions of sixteen countries. The remaining sixteen teams should all be Qualifiers who enter the pot at the start. Remove all seeding from the Competition; make the draw for every stage open and the teams unequivocally equal. Logic dictates that to get to the final sixteen teams, some must fall by the wayside. To salvage the UEFA Cup, remove the Group Phase or make the competition the same format as the Champions League. Right now it is too cumbersome through the inclusion of Cup Winners in its realms. That is easily remedied; resurrect the European Cup Winners Cup. An alternative is to have a Junior Champions League, much the same as Junior Monopoly in that is easier to win but not as much fun. All of the teams who enter the main competition in the Qualifying Phase, enter this tournament rather than going into the UEFA Cup. The finalists of this should then be automatically entered into the Final Qualifying or Group Phase of the main event during the following season. If you have four competitions, the Super Cup can become a true Cup; two Semi-Finals and then a Final.
There is one final radical solution. Leave everything as it is. Do not change a thing. Stop blathering on and do nothing; after all that is what UEFA are best at.