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The Champions League should be for all champions

Gareth Southgate’s continual tinkering with players, tactics and formations has to stop if we are ever going to see a successful England team again. Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine

Gareth Southgate’s continual tinkering with players, tactics and formations has to stop if we are ever going to see a successful England team again. Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine

I’ve always found it highly contradictory that the Champions League involves clubs who are, by definition, anything but champions.

Of course, Uefa justify this by claiming it is a competition aimed at establishing the champions of Europe, rather than a competition that is exclusively for champions.

And that rather sneaky bit of wordplay allows them to open up the tournament to more clubs and ensure none of the big boys miss out, making it a European super league in all but name.

None of this has ever sat comfortably with me.

I much preferred the days when the European Cup was a truly exclusive competition that saw genuine champions from across the continent pitting their wits against one another for the right to be crowned the best of the best.

However, over time I have come to terms with the reality that money is the only thing that matters in football these days, and on that basis the elite would never accept a return to a system which excludes large numbers of them.

So instead we are doomed for eternity to a competition where teams who were only good enough to finish fourth in their domestic league can potentially be crowned the best club in Europe. Figure that one out.

But while I have begrudgingly accepted the reality, there is one aspect of all this that I still refuse to accept: the fact that to make space for these second-, third- and fourth-placed teams, genuine champions are elbowed out.

That, to me, has and always will be a complete and utter dereliction of duty by Uefa.

It’s one thing expanding the pool to allow more big boys in but this should not be at the expense of teams who have bust their balls to win their respective leagues.

In football, just like the bedroom, size shouldn’t matter

Yes, these may be smaller clubs from smaller countries. But why should they be discriminated against?

For example, why should Maltese champions Hibs need to go through a three-stage qualification process to try and make it to the Champions League proper when Manchester City, who only managed third in England, go straight through?

As I said, I tolerate the other contradictions. But the fact that genuine champions, no matter how small they may be, are quietly pushed to the side to allow more room for perpetual failures like Arsenal really irritates the crap out of me.

At the very least, the Champions League proper should be reserved for all Europe’s champions, plus the also-rans who weren’t quite good enough to actually win anything.

Sure, that would make for a bigger group stage. And yes, it would mean the inclusion of some teams that would get regular fortnightly whippings.

But these clubs deserve that opportunity, having put everything on the line to win their leagues. It would give teams like Hibs the chance to pit their wits against the biggest teams in Europe while earning a far bigger slice of the financial pie.

Instead, Mark Miller’s boys are facing an unappealing tie against someone like The New Saints or La Florita in next week’s first qualifying round. No offence, but I thought the former was a band and the latter a brand of toothpaste.

Surely discarding teams on the basis of size is no way to encourage football in smaller countries like ours.

And before they tell us small teams can’t perform on the bigger stage, how much poorer would last year’s European Championships have been without Iceland?

In football, just like the bedroom, size shouldn’t matter.

If only there was a centralised governing body for European football whose job was to ensure the game is promoted equally around the continent…

Another tinkerman

I have no doubt that somewhere deep down inside Gareth Southgate is a decent young coach. Equally, there is a good chance he may end up being successful with England.

But in order to achieve the latter, he needs to stop trying to prove the former.

Southgate may have only been in charge of the English national team for a handful of games, but the tinkering with players, tactics and formations has been non-stop. It’s almost like he is trying to show the world just how much he knows about football and how clever he is.

One of the key problems facing England in recent years (decades?) is that they don’t have an identity. You can’t say they play this formation or that formation, you can’t say they play counter-attacking or high pressing. It has been a pretty much constant blur of managerial meddling.

It really does have to stop if we are ever going to see a successful England team again. Pick a style, pick a formation and pick your best players. And stick with all three. In fact, out of those elements the only thing that should change is the players, and then only if a better one, or one in better form, becomes available.

It’s not rocket science, so Southgate should stop pretending it is.

Be back soon

Guys and girls, I’ve been writing this column for 10 straight years now without missing a single week. How’s that for dedication to the cause?

Anyway, after sharing considerably more than half a million words with you over that time, it’s time for a break.

Don’t worry, I’ll be back by the end of July, just in time to completely fail in my annual Premier League predictions.

But for now, be well.

[email protected]
Twitter: @maltablade

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