Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Why Platini’s UEFA are slaughtering the world’s best tournament

Beginning on Friday in Warsaw we can look forward to a three week jamboree of football. Spain, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands all promise to demonstrate the highest level of skill and flair, football at its finest.
By the beginning of July someone will have produced a moment to live in the memory, a souvenir to match those postcards from past tournaments like Marco Van Basten's mid-air volley, or Michel Platini's iridescent midfield mastery, or Fernando Torres's nerveless finishing.
Even England, their back line organised carefully into two unyielding banks of four by their new manager, could offer the rest of the continent a lesson in the defensive arts, providing us with a living, breathing, unyielding endorsement of the Chelsea way.
Michel Platini holds up the European Championships trophy in 1984

Personally, I can hardly wait for the kick off.
And the most exciting thing of all about the Euros is that the tension, the drama, the excellence will be there from the start. France against England on Monday is as uncompromising an opening fixture as could be imagined.
That is the thing about this competition that differentiates it from the World Cup: the lightweights — and several of the middleweights too - have been ruthlessly purged in qualification. With but 16 teams left standing, we are pitched immediately into the fray. As the cliché about the Premier League would have it, there are no easy games in the Euro finals. Just ask the Irish. Every fixture will be shot through with meaning, commitment, importance. From the first whistle, these Euro games matter.
So make the most of it. The next ten days of group matches is the last we will see of the mean, streamlined, intense old Euros. From 2016, the thing that makes them special will disappear. When France hosts the next competition, it will be for 24 finalists. Roughly half the eligible membership of UEFA will be there. And if 24, why not 36? It is only a matter of time before this will become a tournament so bloated it will make Eurovision look streamlined.
As it has with the Champions League, UEFA is about to apply the air pump to its senior international competition and inflate it to the point of implosion. As they have proven with their stewardship of the Europa League, at UEFA HQ less has never meant more.
Once, the Euro finals only featured four countries. Commercial pressures have led to incessant expansion since those elitist days.
The president Michel Platini has been obliged to increase the access to the finals to keep his position of power. Those voting members whose lack of footballing credentials has thus far precluded them from participating in the financial bonanza have made it a condition of their continuing support that Platini open up access. Another eight teams added to the final roster will mean that none of those who generally expect to participate — like England in 2008 for instance, or Turkey and Belgium this time — will ever miss out again. Television will not be deprived, as it was in Switzerland and Austria, of its most saleable faces. Here's how open the invitation to participate in the finals will become: even Scotland stand a good chance of being there at the money-spinning denouement.
And while Platini welcomes the opportunity at last for the Faroe Islands and Luxembourg to have their moment on the sunlit uplands of tournament football, those who value real football competition will be left, as always, to wait.

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