Bring up Michel Platini in any conversation with a modern football fan and chances are you’ll be handed an earf**king as to how the erratic Frenchman is ruining the game. His exploits as a player are slowly becoming a distant memory, despite his successful footballing career spanning two decades.
However, as president of UEFA, Platini is continuing his quest to completely derail the beautiful game from its current track. First it was extending the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams.
For those that have borne witness to the tournament in the past will understand the stupidity of this. Euro 2004, 2008 and 2012 were all successful competitions due to the teams involved. With just 16 nations, qualification is that much more difficult with the standard of football at its highest.
By increasing the number of teams, the quality of the footall on offer will surely be diluted. Everyone saw how abysmally Republic of Ireland performed at Euro 2012, having lost all three of their group games and conceding nine in the process – imagine another eight teams failing to clear the first hurdle in similar fashion?
Naturally, a group consisting of eventual winners Spain, Germany and Croatia was never going to be the easiest to navigate, but with another two groups to be added to Euro 2016, the level of footballing capability will undoubtedly drop.
Despite the nonsensical alterations the Frenchman has made to the competition, he hasn’t stopped his crusade to complete destroy the great game of football as we know it. No, now Platini has proposed scrapping the Europa League as a whole and making the Champions League a not-so-Champions League.
That’s right, the former midfielder has discussed the possibility of increasing the figure of the group stage of Europe’s elite competition, all but ridding the world of football of the Champions Leagues younger, smaller and more annoying brother.
Despite working so very hard to have the concept of the competition changed from a straight knock-out to a league format, a move I wish had never happened, Platini is hell bent on going all Grand Moff Tarkin and, much like the destruction of Alderaan, eliminating the Europa League from all existence.
The idea is simply perplexing – it means that a team finishing as low as seventh could, theoretically, secure a place in the Champions League. It would effectively signify the end of Europe’s second tier of competitive football, three-and-a-half years after altering the tournament from the hugely popular UEFA Cup.
It’s yet more money grabbing buffoonery from Platini on his crusade to destroy football as we know it. Qualification for the Europa League, especially in England, is frowned upon. Managers are firmly against the idea of the Thursday-Sunday footballing schedule that associates itself with the competition.
You only have to note how serious Harry Redknapp took the second-tier of European football during his stint as Tottenham Hotspur manager. In August last year, the veteran boss insisted he would rest senior stars throughout the group stages in order to focus on domestic duties due to the energy sapping schedule of the Europa League – one he labelled “a killer”.
Brendan Rodgers and Alan Pardew, of Liverpool and Newcastle United respectively, have taken a similar approach this season, often fielding weakened sides in preparation for the upcoming Premier League fixture.
Yet, ridding the competition altogether in order to extend the Champions League couldn’t be a worse move for Platini. Increasing the team count would distort the high standard of football already on show.
Taking into account the teams currently underperforming in the Europa League includes the likes of Neftchi Baku, Ironi Kiryat Shmona and AEL Limassol. Now, imagine them playing Barcelona on a Tuesday evening or breaking up this seasons’ Group D – dubbed the group of champions – in order to accommodate the extra teams?
As mentioned, the diluted quality will be evident. On top of that, players who fail to qualify for the Champions League should be made to remember that their lack of effort or footballing capability ensured they didn’t make it through to Europe’s elite competition, not rewarding it.
Looking down and seeing the gold emblem on a players sleeve should be a reminder as to how they can improve both individually and as a team. If these players look down in the not-too-distant future and see the Champions League emblem, will they strive to improve? Unlikely, especially with qualification for the competition seemingly a pinnacle of a club’s season – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger concedes it’s higher on his list of priorities than winning the FA or Capital One Cup.
Platini may’ve already ruined the 2016 European Championship for us all, while hinting that the 2020 edition could be held across capital cities across the continent. Please, Mr UEFA President, leave the Champions League as it is. Focus on ways to improve the game, not constantly alter it to ruin football for us fans.