Before Liverpool – Real Madrid, sporting balance at the center of the controversy

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Lausanne (AFP) – A baffling shocker or a boring classic? The Champions League final Liverpool-Real Madrid, re-released on Saturday of 2018, shows a number of major clubs clinching trophies, a challenge to the “competitive balance” targeted by UEFA.

From Benzema, Kroos and Modric, the four-time winners of C1, to Mane, Salah, Firmino or Van Dijk, crowned Reds in 2019, many players will step into the Stade de France having already picked up Europe’s most prestigious trophies.

Above all, since 2011, Spanish (eight times) and English (seven times) clubs represent two-thirds of the Champions League finalists, far ahead of German teams (four times), Juventus Turin (two appearances) and Paris Saint-Germain in 2020. .

We even have to go back to the crazy 2003-2004 campaign to find a winner outside the European Grand Slam, FC Porto, even if Ajax Amsterdam reach the semi-finals in 2019.

“There is an undeniable focus on the most sought-after prizes, which goes hand in hand with widening economic gaps,” Raphael Poli, head of the CIES football observatory in Neuchâtel, sums up to AFP.

Without a doubt, what is “magic”?

The observation “between tournaments” applies, because the English championship “crushes others” in terms of television rights, but also in every country, where “big international brands sold on a global scale” overwhelm local competition.

Real Madrid crowned European champions after beating Liverpool 3-1 in Kyiv on May 26, 2018 LLUIS GENE AFP / ARCHIVES

And the sudden increase in European competitions exacerbates this phenomenon, despite the “solidarity payments” of non-participating clubs, by inflating the pockets of leaders and their ability to accumulate talent.

Under the circumstances, is C1 much different from the short-lived “Super League”, a special project of a semi-closed tournament launched last year by twelve top clubs, including Liverpool and Real Madrid, before collapsing in the face of public outrage?

The question is crucial for UEFA, which defends the “open” competition model to justify its monopoly, but also for many European football fans, linked to the principle of sporting uncertainty as much as to the success of their club.

But if the head of the body Aleksander Ceferin has made “competitive balance” a key goal to maintain “the magic of the game”, as of 2017, progress is slow to emerge, and the topic has not been touched upon. At the last conference in mid-May in Vienna.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin at the UEFA Champions League draw ceremony in Istanbul on August 26, 2021
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin at the UEFA Champions League draw ceremony in Istanbul on August 26, 2021 OZAN ​​KOSE AFP / The Archives

Distribution negotiable

Rafael Poli recalls ideas from years ago, from regulatory restrictions on numbers or transfers to “better income distribution” derived from the European Games.

The economist adds that it remains to deal with the “very strong reluctance of the richest clubs”, on which the appeal of C1 largely rests and which makes any radical reform unlikely.

The “Financial Fair Play” reform introduced in 2010 will incorporate from 2023 to 2024 a reduced form of “salary cap”, depending on the income of each club participating in European competitions.

Captain Jordan Henderson lifts the C1 Cup won by Liverpool at the expense of Tottenham in Madrid, June 1, 2019
Captain Jordan Henderson lifts the C1 Cup won by Liverpool at the expense of Tottenham in Madrid, June 1, 2019 Javier Soriano Agence France-Presse / The Archives

For the more prosperous teams, it will nevertheless be possible to pay salaries and shift commissions out of reach of a large part of the competition, or even pay any penalties.

There is no revolution to be expected from the new format of the Champions League after 2024 either, with the eight-day mini-tournament as the first stage, and then the knockout stage unchanged.

Some critics even fear that the eight matches of the first stage (instead of six) will favor the big clubs a bit more, by decreasing the sporting stakes.

On the other hand, the future distribution of revenue – which has not yet been agreed upon – is highly contentious, especially as the increase in the number of matches makes C1 more lucrative than ever.

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