CLUBS throughout Europe are digesting the revelation from UEFA chief Michel Platini that the Champions League may soon double in size with the Europa League scrapped. Christopher Beesley looks at what these plans could mean for Everton and Liverpool.
DIDI HAMANN famously helped inspire Liverpool to Champions League victory in 2005 and he’d love nothing more than to see his former side competing back at the top table in European football.
But he doesn’t want it to be a backdoor entry through an enlarged tournament.
He said: “Doubling the size of the Champions League and scrapping the Europa League sounds like a nonsense to me.
“You’ve got to wonder what this would lead to. Is this going to lead to a fully-fledged European League within five years?
“I think the Champions League is a great competition and the current set-up works well with three or four clubs from the Premier League competing in it, but if you get to the point where there are six or seven then you start devaluing both that competition plus your domestic league.
“You’d have to reduce the Premier League to 18 or 16 clubs because you’d be playing so many European matches – almost as many as domestic games.
“I’d rather see Manchester City playing Wigan than Getafe!
“I like the Champions League as it is and the Premier League is unique.
“I think we’d lose something by tinkering with the formats.
“The Champions League should be for the elite teams. I know it’s not just for champions else we’d have never won it with Liverpool so you can’t knock that but I don’t think it should be made any bigger.”
The former Germany midfielder admits that the unless the competition is expanded, his old club Liverpool face a tough task getting back into the Champions League though.
The Anfield outfit enjoyed six consecutive seasons in Europe’s elite club tournament between 2004-10 – including reaching two finals in 2005 and 2007 – but if they fail to qualify next May they’ll be facing up to a fourth straight campaign out of the competition.
Hamann said: “It’s hard when you drop out of that elite group because the other teams are earning more money in the Champions League.
“How far away are Liverpool to getting back? I wouldn’t say we were close.
“We’re not a million miles away but you need another four or five quality players in there and you need them to come in, gel and perhaps exceed expectations somewhat.
“I’d say Liverpool were at least a couple of seasons away from that.”
Meanwhile, former Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall, who was denied the chance to play in the European Cup at a time when he was widely considered the best player in the world in his position because of the post-Heysel ban on English clubs, has branded the proposals to enlarge the Champions League and do away with the Europa League as “scandalous”.
Southall lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985 – a competition that UEFA have already done away with – but was denied the chance to tackle the continent’s top sides the following season despite Everton’s title win that year.
The former Welsh international is thoroughly exasperated with the current UEFA club tournaments and believes they need a radical overhaul.
However, Southall’s vision for the future seems to be the polar opposite to Platini’s plans.
He said: “Never mind all these group games and playing more and more dead rubbers, I’d go back to having a straight knockout competition, that would get the fans’ interest back.
“You’ve currently got a situation where if you win your first two matches you don’t need to do any more. There are half empty stadiums, and in the Europa League we often see weakened teams because nobody gives a s***.
“The Europa League has become like the League Cup – people don’t treat these competitions with respect which is all wrong and the fans get cheated.
“Also, to make the Europa League worth winning I think they should introduce automatic qualification to the Champions League for the winners.”
Southall is also unhappy with how the current structure favours the already wealthy elements within the game.
He said: “Under the current format it would be really difficult for a club like Everton if they did get into the Champions League.
“ They’d probably have to spend another £30-£40million on extra players to strengthen their squad.
“However, if it was just a straight knockout you’d just go with what you had and wouldn’t have to change all your budgeting.
“You’d just cut your cloth accordingly but wouldn’t need to go overboard.
“As it stands, the Champions League is just a vehicle that UEFA uses to cash-in.
“So much of the money goes in the wrong areas.
“How many millions of pounds did they squander on all those extra match officials to stand behind the goals?”
During Southall’s playing days, there were no groups in European club football and he wants to see a return to that knockout format. He said: “If they fancy mixing things up, why not do something really radical and bringing in teams from outside Europe like the J League or MLS.
“I’d revamp the whole lot and go with a knockout from the start – in the European Cup too – and there’d be no seeding. It would be the luck of the draw.
“Take Celtic for instance, they might have knocked Barcelona out this season and that would be it. I’d get rid of all this dropping down into another competition, once you’re out, you’re out. That would make it exciting and good for the fans.”