Early Doors

Ain’t no party like a UEFA party

Early Doors

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No organisation manages to credit itself with solving a problem entirely of their own making in more comical or bizarre fashion than UEFA. Well, apart from FIFA, of course.

Resembling an Easyjet-style selection of 'suggested destinations', stars were scattered over maps of Europe to demonstrate UEFA's apparent conclusion that a party with just a single host is now, frankly, rubbish.

Yes, there must be radical change, because the previous system of having a paltry 16 teams playing in just a pathetic one or two countries was only satisfactory for the contented majority - those not on the organisation's top table.

The idea was first aired by UEFA president Michel Platini at the end of Euro 2012 and it was, predictably, met with widespread derision. After lengthy debates concerning what the 57-year-old may or may not have been drinking, it was dismissed as simply an outlandish suggestion that would never come to anything.

The assumption that Platini's idea would simply peter out and disappear was ultimately naive, however; for it neglected to consider the fact that the Frenchman and his organisation do not appear to care what anyone else thinks about their proposals.

Furthermore, no one had yet heard UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino's pitch for 'Euro for Europe'.

"Instead of a party in one country, you will have a party all over Europe!" roared Infantino, before rising from his chair and raising his glass of sponsored water with a wink to camera and a 'please be upstanding'-style gesture. Okay, maybe not.

Like most 60th parties, it is already notable for outlandish statements, questionable venue decisions and bewildered onlookers. In this case, the party is still years away, but the idea of such a nomadic, chaotic tournament is pretty absurd.

Platini's 'brainwave' is partly justified on the basis that an expanded 24-team tournament would be too expensive for one nation to host alone. If only it were possible to hold a successful and competitive international competition with fewer participants - now that really would be a stroke of genius.

The problem, of course, was this: "The fact that the Euro moves to 24 teams bears additional burdens on the host nations, the requirements are becoming bigger and bigger." So to paraphrase Infantino, the latest contrived changes simply had to be made because changes that did not need to be made were made. Got it? Good.

But Gianni, what about the issue of multiple hosts automatically qualifying for the tournament? "You can't have 15 hosts automatically qualified," he said. "This would have to be thought about and looked at. Another question is will hosts who qualified play at home... It will probably be difficult to understand for the fans of a country which is host if they do not play a match at home." Er, yes. Yes it would. Just another thing to start thinking about.

But it's innovation that UEFA clearly wanted. Innovation, and one very big, very long, very drawn out party. One that is spread extremely thinly across Europe with more teams than can fit on a reasonably-sized wall-chart. Still, at least Panini will be delighted about the clear impossibility of anyone ever completing one of their sticker albums for the tournament.

The next European Championship, in France in 2016, will be the first held to the format of 24 qualified teams: there is, therefore, plenty of time for the logistical absurdity of the 2020 arrangement to dawn on everyone concerned. Indeed, by that time, the bloated new structure will have settled in.

Part of the justification for the decision, approved by UEFA's executive committee, was that it would allow smaller countries a slice of the action as they would not be able to stage an unwieldy, 24-team tournament on their own. It all helps to give the distinct impression that the organisation is just stumbling along, making decisions on the hoof.

Since securing another four-year term as UEFA president in February last year, Platini has moved to defend his decision to vote for Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups - and, after another Eureka! moment as he suggested that the latter be moved to winter - and has abandoned a hugely successful 16-team format for the Euros.

There will now be a very clear financial downside for fans who want to follow their team in all matches, and the logistics will be challenging for everyone involved; except of course for the big wigs with VIP entry to the 'biggest party Europe has seen'.

Okay, so the alternatives seemed to be a co-hosting arrangement between Georgia and Azerbaijan, or potentially an arrangement with Turkey — but that only became the remaining options after Platini had thrown his support behind the latter, thus extinguishing the interest of a host of other interested bidders.

This will, of course, be taken by some to represent further evidence that Platini is following the Sepp Blatter route to megalomania, with the FIFA presidency on the horizon.

"The main point is really to give more cities, more countries the possibility to host a celebration European championship. Today, everything is open," Infantino said, continuing to give the impression that an incredibly fun revolution was sweeping through the continent.

No federation has ever attempted to host a tournament across more than two countries - FIFA resolved never to do even that again after the issues it encountered with Japan and South Korea in 2002 - but Platini is a man on a mission.

This alternative will see almost half of UEFA's membership qualifying for the finals, and that can only be a good thing for Platini - and for European airlines, of course.

Not only will this flawed new system ensure a tournament entirely lacking in identity, it will have the concentrated festival-like atmosphere of having a single devoted and quirky host removed. It will be chaotic, and it will surely have a rambling, disjointed narrative.

To his critics, it will be seen as using one bad call to justify another; to his supporters, Platini this will be cited as yet another example of his administrative flair and eccentricity. Either way, this concept appears half-baked and unnecessarily rash.

The bidding to host the 2020 European Championship opened on March 21, with a final decision expected later next year or in early 2014; but considered and reasoned decision-making is about as outdated as single-host parties, as everyone now knows.

It has to be said that the 2020 European Championships do sound somewhat intriguing and, well, different; but the one tiny problem with such a glorious 24-team continental roadshow is that it has simply not been thought through.


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FOREIGN VIEW: "I know it is the game of the year and I know how this match is lived around here, what it means to lose and win. But what does it matter to beat Benfica if we lose the next three matches? Our situation won't change much if this happens. We need to win all matches." - the view of underfire Sporting boss Franky Vercauteren, who is attempting to survive as the club's seventh coach in just four seasons. The club are looking to end their worst league start for nearly 80 years. Put simply, as Vercauteren says, they "need to win all matches". Simple.

COMING UP: Jim White will be filing for us this lunchtime, we will preview the weekend's action with our Match of the Weekend feature, and The Fantasist will be along at 15:00 to hold another live chat and get annoyed at the same question being asked 600 times.

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