Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reconstruction: Home and away

European football is once again to be buffeted by the winds of change.

UEFA are considering dropping the Europa League and doubling the Champions League to accommodate 64 teams.

Nothing is final yet but a decision is likely to be made by 2014.

Having been treated by like a second rate tournament by its organisers - and some of its participants - the Europa League hasn't been as fiscally rewarding as the Champions League. Strange that.

And if you don't pay your way, modern football would prefer you to die quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

So the cash cow of the Champions League will become ever more lucratively bloated.

Don't hold your breath for a democratisation of access or wealth. European football will remain tilted towards the big clubs from the big leagues.

The idea of a European league, driven by an orchestrated breakaway led by the European Club Association, will again be shelved.

Even with UEFA's meddlesome involvement, the big clubs can get what they want out of the Champions League and periodic tantrums can be always used to force UEFA's hand on pressing issues.

The European League, a persuasive idea for many in Scotland, remains a concept more powerful in the abstract than reality: a fine stick to threaten UEFA with and a fine carrot to keep the "smaller big" clubs doing exactly what the "big big" clubs want.

But probably not something that the cabal of super clubs have any intention of pursuing in the immediate future.

What does all this mean for Scotland?

Scottish clubs would be competing for space in a 64 team tournament. This season five of our teams competed for places in two tournaments featuring 80 teams. Only one survived qualifying.

Our current strike rate suggests that few of our clubs would be bothering the business end of an expanded Champions League any time soon.

You never know though, losing in the qualifying rounds might become a more lucrative hobby.

In the meantime we have our own restructuring debate to monitor.

How's that going?

The SFL have a draft set of proposals that sees the top flight expanded and the SPL disbanded.

The SPL have a counter set of proposals that sees the SPL gain 12 more teams in an extra division and an extraordinarily daft sounding three way split into three leagues of eight after 22 games.

So the SFL want the SPL to bugger off and the SPL want to not only stick around but expand into two leagues for a bit of the season and three leagues for another bit of the season.

These approaches to reconstruction do not immediately suggest that the SPL and the SFA are singing from the same hymn sheet. Or that they're even in the same church.

That means it's time for the SFA to play a role: cajoling, brokering, soothing, arse kicking.

To this end the governing body's Professional Game Board released a statement yesterday:

"The Scottish FA’s Professional Game Board met at Hampden Park today to hear and discuss proposals on league reconstruction made by the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League.

"The PGB is encouraged by the common ground established on many issues in what is an emotive subject.

"The respective league bodies will now hold further discussions with their member clubs, in the hope that this common ground can be expanded upon within each proposal.

"The next meeting of the PGB is scheduled for January 30, 2013. However, it has offered to reconvene earlier to expedite the process once the bodies have held further talks with their members."

Which, from this vantage point, looks like another fine example of the SFA's mealy-mouthed dithering.

Given their headline differences on the big issues it's unclear what common ground the SPL and SFL might have found.

To drag the restructuring debate on until no sane person could reasonably be expected to care? Possibly.

Mutual loathing? Maybe.

A shared desire to make the SFA look as weak as possible. Perhaps.

We're left with two organisations at odds with each other and a governing body with the inspirational leadership qualities of a burst balloon.

If you were looking for a structure that would produce the most directionless governance for your sport, you could do far worse than mimic Hampden's tripartite travesty.

And so the debate drags on, each side trying to promote their vested interests, each saying they'll do the best for the fans while trying to avoid giving the fans any voice in the debate.

In that respect Scottish football's reconstruction shenanigans are pretty much like a low budget version of UEFA's blockbuster.

The difference is likely to be the pace of change.

By the time four or five Scottish clubs are getting emptied from the qualifiers of a 64 team Champions League, the bitter status quo will probably still reign supreme in Scotland.