FOX Soccer Exclusive
Money reason behind UEFA's scheme
Michel Platini made some waves today when he floated the idea that the European Championships could be held across the continent, as opposed to a single country in 2020.
“The Euros in 2020 could be held all over Europe,” Platini told reporters today at a UEFA press conference. “It could be either one country and 12 stadiums, or one stadium in 12 or 13 cities.”
“It's an idea I feel really passionate about, it will be a lot easier from a financial perspective for all the countries,” Platini continued. “If you need to build airports or 10 stadiums in a country, this would be rather easy because it would be one stadium per host city.”
Let’s leave aside the predictable grousing (the only people who care about which country might get a free pass into the Euros are members of the English media) and actually see Platini’s proposal for what it is: a direct response to its own phenomenally popular Champions League.
Since UEFA are going ahead with plans to expand the Euros to a 24-team tournament (more on that in a moment), this makes some sort of sense. Nearly half of UEFA’s 53 member nations will qualify for 2016, and instead of sticking one nation with the cost of building new grounds, why not just go where the stadiums already are?
Spreading the wealth would make the Euros a nightmare for folks in my profession — but would also make the tournament a truly continental spectacle.
Now, this doesn’t mean I agree with it.
One of the nice things about the Euros is that is small. It’s basically three weeks of soccer and an extended, lovely fortnight in a single country. Expanding from 16 teams – an ideal number – up to 24 teams is a mistake.
Why? Well, consider the last World Cup, a bloated beast of a tournament that proved to me that there are not truly 32 world-class caliber teams. We saw some miserable slogs in South Africa, and a lot of that was due to the fact that there were a good ten teams that did not belong there.
Here, we have seen a great set of group stage games and some very fine knockout round games. Thursday’s Germany-Italy semifinal was absolutely superb. Yes, we’ve had a couple dogs – I never want to see Spain play Portugal ever again, thanks – but on the whole, this has been a classic tournament.
Bigger, in this case, is not better. Does anyone really think the addition of the likes of Switzerland, Scotland, Belarus or Estonia would make this a better tournament? One of the biggest arguments against “spreading the wealth” is this very tournament. On the evidence, UEFA must never, ever again allow a co-hosted tournament. Ever.
It is no secret that I happen to feel that Poland should have simply hosted this on their own. Poland have three category four stadiums that sat unused during this past month (Legia’s Polish Army Stadium in Warsaw, Wisla’s Miejeski Stadium and Wroclaw’s Olympic Stadium) and had UEFA been a bit more realistic in their attendance requirements, would have put on a super show.
Instead, we got a jerry-rigged, disconnected tournament that lacked cohesion. It had brutal travel times and a market for lodging in Ukraine that Michel Platini himself called “criminal.” As a result, a lot of fans stayed home.
Anyone looking at hosting this thing should beware: Poland spent $20 billion getting ready for this show, and it’s very hazy on what their legacy will be. Had the Poles been able to host everything themselves, and got a chance to show off more of this great nation, we would've had a greater tournament.
As it stands, this was a very fan-unfriendly tournament from a logistical point of view.
None of this should take away from UEFA’s true motivation: money. Cynics will note that they are attempting to increase their revenues by including more teams, and thus having more games to sell to global television. Fair enough.
But they also have to be worried that the national team game is slipping badly in comparison to the club game, and this is a semi-logical response.
Putting national team games in people’s backyards is always a good idea. Anyone who has attended the matches in Poland and Ukraine when the hosts were playing will attest that they experienced a riveting event. In terms of atmosphere, only this year’s Champions League final — held on Bayern Munich’s home soil – came close.
The thought of Greece playing a major tournament game in Athens, of an England playing at Wembley, or of Scotland playing at Hampden Park is very powerful stuff indeed. Where it gets tricky is when those games move to neutral turf. Will fans really shell out to fly to Stockholm, Berlin, Barcelona and Moscow in the space of two weeks?
Judging from the crowds seen in Kiev and the fact that tickets remain available for Sunday’s final, I’m not sure they will.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.