Sam Wallace: Chelsea must not be given kick-off times to suit them


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The Independent Online

When he was Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho would complain bitterly that no accommodation was made for England's Champions League representatives by the Premier League. He said that as manager of Porto, he only had to call the league authorities in Portugal and they would move a fixture to a Friday, ahead of a Champions League fixture the following midweek.

It has become an issue again this week after Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham was scheduled for 6pm on Sunday 15 April, potentially three days before they play Barcelona on the Wednesday. No one should take it for granted that these two will be in the semi-finals – Benfica and Milan will have some say in it – but the point stands.

The 6pm kick-off is the one no one wanted, although a perfect storm of conditions made it so. The Liverpool v Everton semi-final had to be played on a Saturday to avoid clashing with the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. Neither the Football Association nor the Premier League wanted Chelsea v Spurs up against Manchester United's Premier League game at home to Aston Villa, which is live on Sky at 4pm. Then there is the consideration of ITV, which has paid £275m for its four-year contract with the FA for England and FA Cup rights. By playing the game at Sunday lunchtime, and avoiding a clash with the 4pm Old Trafford game, the viewing figures would have been potentially 50 per cent lower than for a late afternoon or evening kick-off.

The fans might be aggrieved with ITV as well as the FA over an inconvenient kick-off time, but English football has been dancing to television's tune for a long time. It means that Chelsea will have less than 72 hours between the end of their FA Cup semi-final and – potentially – the kick-off of Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge. The suggestion by Roberto Di Matteo, pictured, to move the FA Cup semi-final to a Friday night was a non-starter for many reasons, not least because the two semi-final dates are agreed between the FA and Brent council, the London local authority under whose remit Wembley Stadium falls, months in advance.

The clamour goes up once a season that helping the big clubs in the Champions League is good for English football. No, it is not. It is good for those big clubs and no one else.

The Champions League clubs already earn up to £70m more a year from the competition. It is their job to strengthen their squad and husband their resources. By changing the league programme to suit the big boys in the Champions League, all we serve to do is reinforce the elite. Remove the potential downside from playing up to 13 more games a season, and all the travelling that entails, and the big teams will be even more removed from the rest than ever.

The Premier League is an independent competition. It must strive to be as fair and as even-handed towards all its participants as possible and, certainly in the equitable division of its television revenue, it does not do a bad job. It is not there to be tinkered with in order to give the biggest clubs a better chance of glory in the Champions League – and the league itself – at the expense of the rest.

The timing of Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final is unfortunate but as for rejigging the Premier League schedule to suit the elite, perhaps those clubs who benefit from such a change would like to redistribute some of their Champions League earnings in return. No? Thought not.