Football: The growing demands of Europe

Libero Ian Ridley on football
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The Independent Online
The theme of those in power underestimating Europe as an issue seems to have been widely aired in the past week. As they look anxiously at the now officially announced expansion of the Champions' League, those at the Football Association and the Premier League will know how the politicians feel.

It was always known that the eight top-seeded nations - call Libero cynical, but they also seem to coincide with the eight wealthiest television markets of Western Europe - would get a second place as the league grew from 16 to 24 clubs. What is now also known is the new proposal from Juventus, one that will entail further fixture demands the season after next.

For next season, the league will comprise six groups of four teams, the top six seeds going straight in. Thus the seventh - which is England and Manchester United's present rank - and the eighth seeds go into a group with a seed already in. With only one from each group guaranteed a quarter- final place, the other two being the runners-up with the best records, United are not best pleased, although rankings could yet be altered.

The Premiership runners-up incidentally, go into a qualifying round in August. If defeated, they switch over to the Uefa Cup, which only highlights another flaw of the format. Rangers, as representatives of a low-seed nation, will find themselves in a preliminary round in July. If they lose, their European season is over, while the second-placed teams in the top eight nations get a second shot.

United favour Juventus' plan, likely to be adopted for 1998/99. It involves four Champions' League groups of six teams, with two going through from each group. After two-legged quarter-finals, Juve propose semi-finals in a neutral country in the last week of May with the final on a Sunday.

Uefa have warmed to the plan; after all it means 10 league matches - more TV, more money, more influence - instead of the present six. Less pleased will be the English authorities, not only for reasons of fixture congestion but also because their own competitions could be eroded with the other commitments of their top club, or clubs.

It makes it more important, therefore, that the uneasy arrangement of fixtures, designed to keep the peace in the face of national team, domestic and European interests, is all the more sensitively handled during current negotiations between the various governing bodies.

Once the groundwork between them is done, then Arsene Wenger's proposal that managers be recruited to advise on calendars must be heeded.

CAN anyone tell Libero why the word "Lasagne" is sung to that Champions' League anthem?

A THOUGHT occurred during the vilification of David James last week as a result of his recent errors. Goalkeepers, we are told, can undermine the confidence of defences. It is probably so. But by the same token, can defences not then undermine the confidence of goalkeepers? It certainly seemed to happen to James in Paris and against Manchester United.

On the subject of Liverpool, Merseyside wisdom now has it that if you want to keep a secret, emblazon it on Steve McManaman's vest. No danger of him scoring a goal and lifting his shirt to reveal it.

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