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Action Replay

Keepie Uppie

To the one who has, as the man said, more will be given. Nowhere in sport is this so clearly seen as in the upper echelons of European club football, where the UEFA Champions League has been arranged so that the most successful and wealthy clubs are all but guaranteed a sizeable income from the competition.

As the European Cup, this was originally structured as a knock-out tournament for the teams that had won the league competition in each country. Before money called the tune in national leagues, this opened the way for teams such as Nottingham Forest to win the final. But the bigger clubs disliked often being shunted into less prestigious Europe-wide competitions and the chance of being knocked out after just two games.

The ‘solution’ was to introduce the Champions League, with more clubs from the biggest countries, a league format which ensured a minimum of six matches and a seeding system that was intended to keep the top clubs apart till the later stages. Massive sponsorship from the likes of MasterCard and Ford, combined with television rights (and global audiences of over 100 million for the final) mean a club can make up to £20m or more from a successful campaign.

One (possibly intended) result of this, combined with the generally increasing power of wealthy clubs and countries, has been to drastically reduce the pool of likely winners. Barcelona has won three times since 2006, and over that period only teams from England, Germany, Italy and Spain have appeared in the final. It’s scarcely conceivable that teams like Ajax or Porto (winners in 1995 and 2004, respectively) could win nowadays. Whatever else may be said, football at such rarefied heights is certainly not on a level playing field.

PB