Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Platini presents another unwelcome and unworkable idea...

Ever since he won the election to become UEFA's new president Michel Platini has been making suggestions for 'improvements' to Europe's premier club competition, the Champions League.

He first mooted the idea of reducing the number of clubs from four to three for Europe's top leagues. This predictably went down like a lead balloon. That was Platini's first bad idea and not surprisingly the leading clubs including the G14 were quick to tell Platini that his idea stunk.

Next the former European footballer of the year suggested that winners of the domestic Cup competitions should be allowed to enter the Champions League at the expense of the club who finished fourth in their respective leagues. Again, Platini was told that his idea wasn't a good one by the G14.

Platini's very latest big idea comes in letter form, apparently he's written to Gordon Brown telling the Prime Minister that there's too much money going into the game. What does Platini expect the government to do about this 'problem'?

Football Clubs are run as businesses and as such they have obligations to fulfil, as do any other businesses, which include completing tax returns and profit and loss accounts etc, etc.

Expecting Gordon Brown and his government to do anything about the running of the professional game is like believing in father Christmas. The idea is plainly ridiculous and once again Platini is in danger of being looked upon as a tiresome would be dictatorial meddler.

Not only that, most English fans would no doubt agree that foreign ownership and the new money that has been sloshing around the Premier League has largely benefited the clubs concerned.

On the field of play, where it really matters, Aston Villa have looked better this season than they have done for some considerable time, the same applies to Liverpool and Manchester City.

Portsmouth are another club that has a new foreign owner, they have already drawn with United and Liverpool, I predict that they will go on to have a good season.

So let's look at the those clubs who aren't doing well. Tottenham for starters. They've spent a fortune, but they're near the bottom of the league but they are run by a Brit in Daniel Levy. Derby County and Bolton are also owned by Brits both clubs are currently finding the going tough.

Others like West Ham United and Reading are really struggling, both clubs have succumbed to foreign ownership. So on the face it, it doesn't really matter who owns these clubs, those that are well managed and run are doing well, the others less so. That is the nature of football and always has been. The size of the transfer fees involved are undoubtedly much, much larger but the principle remains constant.

The amounts of money coming into the game are not in my humble opinion the problem. It's the mismanagement of funds that can often lie at the heart of the problem when things go wrong horribly at football clubs, that and clubs over-stretching themselves in financial terms.

A case in point was Leeds United who in 2001 were competing in the Champions League semi-final, but things went horribly wrong not long after when they failed to qualify for the Champions League.

The Yorkshire club had banked everything on qualifying for Europe's premier club competition and when it did not happen, the walls came tumbling down and Leeds have been in free-fall ever since having dropped two divisions.

The owners of Leeds United were not foreigners, they were die-hard born and Yorkshire bred. Led by Peter Ridsdale, the Whites former chairman and his board were responsible for putting their club into hock with the banks and anyone else who'd lend them money to fund their massive spending. It was a gamble that failed big time.

Another case in point is my beloved United. Many people within the game and those who understand finance fear for the future of Manchester United under the current ownership of the Glazer family.

The Glazers have plunged United into a sea of debt to the tune of £660m and rising. Sadly, there's nothing the government can do about that either. The fact is that the club's American owners could only borrow such massive amounts because prior to the takeover United was so well run, it didn't have any debts at all.

United's only hope for the future is that someone comes in with a massive offer to buy out the Glazer family - you do wonder what Platini will have to say about that should it happen?

I'm sure that one day Platini will come up with something worthwhile. Perhaps the most interesting of all, is his bid to give football special status in European law. If that happens then UEFA might be able to impose rules about the numbers of overseas stars at any one club at any given time. As things stand there is a danger that British talent could be overlooked due to the influx of players from the continent.

Here's my own priority list for Platini:
All clubs to make provision to make football affordable to watch for all pockets. By definition, this would mean that 70% of capacity would be made affordable at each club. Without the fans, there will be no football in the future. They are the life-blood of the game not Uefa, the players or the managers.

Impose strict rules to ensure the safety of visiting fans across Europe. Be definition, this means that European home games are stewarded and policed properly.

Stop awarding European finals to clubs with stadiums that are clearly too small.

Award more tickets to the competing clubs in European finals and reduce the number of tickets that go to national associations and Uefa cronies.

Do more to ensure clubs develop their own home grown stars.

Spot the good idea: Platini's targets when he was first installed into his new job:

Gaining recognition of football's special status in European law
Developing all Uefa competitions, including Intertoto Cup, youth and women's championships

Combating racism, xenophobia and fraud (Talk is cheap where UEFA is concerned - let's see some stiff penalties being dished out and not the usual slap of the wrist from UEFA as so often happens)

Correcting inequalities and establishing equal opportunities

Reducing the maximum number of teams per country in the Champions League to three

In creasing co-operation with Fifa

A hands-on presidency and more decision-making by Uefa executive

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