UEFA DIRECTOR of Communications, William Gaillard insists the Champions League will “never return to a straight knock-out format”, despite the recent clamour for Europe’s elite competition to scrap the group stages, writes Iain Green.
Although the Swiss remains confident the Champions League can continue to strive in times of economic hardship, thanks largely to the hefty amount of sponsorship money it receives from commercial partners Heineken, Playstation, and Ford, Gaillard admits he can seriously envisage a situation in which the rich become richer, and the poor become poorer.
Consequently, Gaillard believes UEFA’s member clubs “wish to play as many games as possible for commercial and profit-making reasons”, and therefore claims reverting the original European Cup design is “unrealistic”.
“It’s always difficult to go back to an ideal past,” said Gaillard, “but the fact is that because of financial obligations and clubs’ wishes to maximise their financial resources, the last thing they would want is fewer games in a cup competition of this ilk.
“I admit it’s hard for the smaller clubs, as thirty years ago clubs such as Anderlecht and Aalborg had an equal chance of winning the trophy as the larger clubs, but I guess their chances of success these days are minimal to say the least. That said, we have to be realistic and allow these clubs to make as much money as possible despite whether they are knocked-out in the group stages or not.”
Gaillard believes UEFA have a number of measures in place in order to combat the difference in both ability and the financial pyramid that exists between the Champions League entrants, but feels they can do little else other than the existing procedures to foreground their attempts of a level playing field.
“We introduced a collective sharing of profits a few years ago, which means money is distributed by UEFA according to the television pool and the respective results of a particular club. However, we acknowledge the fact that our teams enter with differing budgets and with differing histories, so we can’t do a lot more than what we do at present because we don’t have any input into how each national governing body manages their respective league.”
The UEFA Cup has always been the poor relation to its Champions League counterpart
However, amid ever-increasing support from businesses and supporters, Gaillard admits UEFA, and its President, Michel Platini, often have considerable difficulties in managing the balance of the Champions League, with clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester United tackling minnows like BATE Borisov and Anorthosis Famagusta.
He continued: “We have always attempted to strike a competitive balance within our European competitions, and to be honest, it gets harder year after year to maintain that equilibrium. But Michel has always go on record to affirm his belief that football developed at a time when there was no money in the game, and although there’s no doubt we face a crisis today in terms of competitiveness, and in some cases finance, I’m confident football will be great with or without money.”
Gaillard is also upbeat bout the re-branding of the UEFA Cup to the Europa League, which he suggests will ensure the gap between the two ‘sisters’ closes dramatically over the next handful of seasons.
“The UEFA Cup has always been the poor relation to its Champions League counterpart, and this has been enhanced in recent times as we’ve developed a situation where we’ve gone from one league champion from each country to three or four clubs, meaning fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth places qualify for the UEFA Cup, which reduces the quality,” stated Gaillard.
“And although we have no way of changing that, we can bring the Europa League into line with the Champions League to sell the rights collectively, which has suddenly made it much more attractive and profitable, and will definitely narrow the gap between our two major tournaments.”