In a recent press conference, the increasingly unpopular UEFA head Michel Platini revealed his future plans for the European Championships and they have not gone over well with fans. Platini, who was revered as a player during his days with Juventus and France in the 1980s, has cast a dark shadow over his previous history with his bureaucratic measures as a political figurehead in european football. Many fans and pundits have questioned his ideas and motives over the past couple of years and this latest plan is no exception.
Platini stated that the 2020 European Championship would be held in up to 32 different countries in what is a radical departure from the one or two host nation format that has been in place since the tournament began in 1960. Originally he stated that it would be 12 to 13 countries, but when asked about it during this most recent press conference he upped that number to 24 to 32 countries. The plan is to raise the countires qualifying from 16 to 24 in 2016 then up the number of hosts from there The idea is that fans can attend games at cities that may be more within their reach or have more direct transport, which would be a plus, and that cities around Europe could gain income from the incoming populace. Upon closer inspection neither of these ideas ring true whatsoever to the fans who would make such travel arrangements.
First of all raising the number of teams in the tournament would dilute the quality of play on the pitch. Euro 2012 was very tightly contested but with more countries thrown into the mix it is more likely that there will be frequent blow-outs like one sees in the World Cup when Germany faces Saudi Arabia, or at least more defensive performances from the smallest nations. Platini claims that more teams would not lower the level of soccer played and stated: â€œWe have 24 good teams in Europe. Think about the sides who arenâ€™t here, we can find another eight good sides: Norway, Serbia, Belgium, Scotlandâ€¦ the level wonâ€™t drop at 24.â€Â With those nations listed it sounds as though he may have a sound point, but wouldnâ€™t that make qualifying for the tournament less exclusive?
Supporters who take time off from their work to travel to such tournaments are not happy with the idea of flying all over Europe in order to see their team play. â€œAs you know there are low-cost airlines,â€ responded Platini.Â â€œIt sometimes costs less to go between London and Donetskâ€¦ I think it is less expensive.â€ This shows his utter disconnect from the reality that the rest of Europe lives in. It may be true that flying from London to Berlin would be cheaper than to Gdansk, but with one host nation, those fans would only need to take one flight. As for the fans who already reside in the cities selected for matches, they will miss out the excitement arriving in their towns – travelling supporters regularly build communities where they can all get together and party while not at the matches and sight-see around their new surroundings.
At Euro 2012 the Irish fans set up a formidable camp that was regularly credited with being the most fun one could have at the European Championships. As seen at the World Cup in South Africa, encampments of supporters also did very well setting up their supporter communities side-by-side as seen by groups of Italians and English. With the new plans these fans would be dispersed across the continent, catching the match then heading to the airport for their next flight or perhaps changing their flights as their team gets unexpectedly eliminated. Separating all the fans from one another is not the way to create an atmosphere at an international tournament.
For example â€“ if England were to play Croatia in Marseille, then the southern French city would only see Brits and Croats and those fans would only see each other.They would not mix and mingle with all the other fans from other nations involved in the tournament, which outside of the games themselves (and most cannot afford to attend) is the most important event of international soccer.
This new plan had the support of the 16 member UEFA executive committee, and Platini declared that he was â€œpassionateâ€ about turning these ideas into action.Â This concept has been said to be a knee-jerk reaction from Platini and his cohorts rather than a well thought out plan as not long ago they were fully behind Turkey hosting the 2020 European Championships. Istanbul was to be the centerpiece of that installment of the Euros with great stadiums belonging to massive clubs like Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, and Besiktas all within the city limits and ready to be used. However, when Istanbul became one of the three candidate cities for the 2020 Olympics, UEFA were quick to realize that Turkey could not hold both events in the same summer. Thus birthed the notion to have one match in Istanbul and spread the others elsewhere.
The new format with eight extra teams would bring 51 games to the tournament, excluding any potential plans for a third and fourth placed playoff, which Platini argued would roughly work out to still be four games per city.Â That does not take into account the wear and tear on the athletes competing in these games.
It is regularly noted how star players like the Rooneys and Ronaldos of the world have yet to step up in a major international tournament as they look greatly worn out at the end of long seasons for their respective clubs. Great players play for great teams, and clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United play the most matches out of anyone in Europe as they regularly go the distance not only in their leagues but in three other cup competitions. Adding another slew of games to their slates may be a problem for these players and their teams as they expect to get these players back in top shape for the beginning of their domestic seasons in August., hence the fear of diluting the talent at play on the field. If adding more quality teams to the tournament wonâ€™t lower the level of play, then perhaps fatigue will as witnessed by the quality of the Italian side at the end of their Euro 2012 campaign.
Well-developed soccer nations such as Spain, Germany, France, or England will likely ignore the claims of Platini that there would be less pressure on a host city to â€œbuild new airports and stadiumsâ€ if the games were more evenly spread around the continent. Although host nations spend a lot of money in preparation for major tournaments, do they not make a lot of revenue from those who attend? If another railroad is built to bring in hoards of fans, how many tickets have just been sold to bring them in? International soccer and its tournaments should be regarded as the celebration of a nation as they welcome the world into their sporting and other cultures. There is no doubt when polled, most Poles and Ukrainians will argue that they were very satisfied with seeing the results of their countries labour in staging a major tournament -which they fought to host to begin with – end with a resounding success.
Even the way the teams played on the pitch came down to the fact they were performing in front of their numerous and passionate home fanbases.Â The heroics of Andriy Shevchenko will go down as legendary in the Ukraine as their national hero performed brilliantly for his side and in front of his adoring public. Polandâ€™s valiant battling and free attacking play was something to behold as well as fans got to see star striker Robert Lewandowski and his contingent of Dortmund-based Bundesliga champions adorn their countries uniform and play admirably. Although both teams disappointingly exited at the end of the group stages, it must be said that Poland played some of the most unhindered and cavalier soccer in the whole tournament.
To take a tournament away from a host nation is to remove the whole packaging and unique atmosphere that the host nations deliver to the world. Seeing the last major tournament in South Africa was as thrilling as seeing the first World Cup staged in Asia by South Korea and Japan. Although most would agree that the vuvuzelas of South Africa were detrimental to the viewing, they will go down in history with a large imprint on that tournament.
The plus side to spreading the tournament around Europe is the money to be made by UEFA and would allow Platini to further his contacts across Europe, as he is soon keen to do. There would be fairer distribution of revenue across countries as opposed to one country benefitting from the tourism boost, but that is the reason countries compete to host such tournaments and put so much money into them in the first place. In this day and age however, on both the international and club levels of the game, television revenue trumps all, and there is no difference in the mindset when it comes to said profits in regards to UEFA and FIFA.
If parting with tradition and dropping the idea of host countries that are often the cause of headaches for soccerâ€™s governing bodies, then so be it they say. One would be hard pressed to find anyone in support of this new proposal outside of Michel Platini and his 16 strong legion of officials but this appears to be the way of the future for soccer in Europe and we will all grin and bear it as we tune in on our televisions circa 2020.
You can read more from Jared on Field of View.