Tuesday's soccer news starts with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin speaking to the organization's congress in Amsterdam. With European soccer's governing body facing pressure from FIFA as well as from some of its own elite clubs, Ceferin responded by stressing UEFA's role as protector of the bigger picture. The one-sentence synopsis of that he put on repeat at the beginning and end of his remarks. "Purpose before profit."
It's a nice sentiment in the current era of professional soccer across the world. It's also interesting that it comes from the president of the organization that brought us the expanded European championships, the Nations League, and undoubtedly significant changes to the Champions League for that competition's next broadcast deal. If Ceferin is trying to trigger a pan-European solidarity mechanism, it comes at a time when the representative from one of its bigger threats to the existing structure was sitting in the front row.
That would be former UEFA employee and now FIFA president Gianni Infantino. It was Infantino that pushed the EURO expansion and carried those ideas over to his job at FIFA. An expanded World Cup and the revamped Club World Cup are Infantino projects along with the reported conversations about sanctioning a breakaway European super league.
Considering that UEFA is also reportedly in negotiations over changes to the Champions League to please the elite clubs, what Ceferin offered was at best a kind of mediation. "Our primary objective is to protect, promote and develop football across Europe. I would go as far as to say power is worthless unless it incorporates the notion of purpose over profit."
Fair enough in theory, but in practice Ceferin spoke to that basic purpose at the end of his remarks. UEFA, like any confederation, organizes tournaments to crown a champion. That's their purpose. It's how they get there that's causing so much dismay among stakeholders and supporters.
Ceferin's UEFA operates a Champions League with a clear purpose. Crown the best club in Europe in a given season. Even setting aside the now stale argument that only domestic champions should be involved, what is reportedly on the table for the Champions League after 2022 works to convolute that process. The potential for a move back to the second group stage, elite clubs pushing for multiple-season entry, and so on is the direct result of what UEFA has already done. The four guaranteed group stage places for the top four domestic leagues only compounded one of the most ridiculous things in world soccer. UEFA's lengthy qualifying process for teams to make it into the group stage.
As it stands, half of the group stage slots go to the top four domestic leagues without having to suffer the indignity of qualifying. That limit compounds the situation for the clubs outside of the top 11 leagues where at least their champions avoid qualifying. UEFA opting to add a third European competition aimed mainly at the lesser lights of Europe compounds the silliness of what they've created.
The position of the Champions League at the top of the table for club competitions makes it the biggest moneymaker in the club game. That's down to the elite clubs in the knockout round. It's an unavoidable takeaway from any objective look at what UEFA has built. Whether or not the clubs have a continued interest in that specific structure is the question UEFA would rather avoid. With FIFA's leadership not necessarily feeling that constraint, we could be seeing the latest war of words over the immediate future of the sport.
MLSsoccer's Matt Doyle reviews week 1 of the 2020 season. SI.com's Brian Straus on Atlanta United minus Josef Martinez. Pro Soccer USA's Julia Poe with what Orlando City accomplished in its first game under Oscar Pareja. World Soccer Talk's Christopher Harris interviews former US Soccer president candidate Kyle Martino.
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