Turn on, tune in, drop off. Michel Platini’s television-shaped,
politically-driven qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 threatens to become a
laborious, lightweight soap opera stretched across six nights on each “week
of football”, rather than the occasional blockbuster drama. Platini has
devalued the Euro.
One heavyweight terrestrial company was known to be against the dilution of
quality, and voiced its concerns to Uefa, although the super-sized schedule
will suit satellite broadcasters. Two leading national associations, the FA
and the Deutscher Fussball-Bund, voted against Uefa’s proposal to expand the
competition from 16 to 24 teams.
Platini perhaps realized that the increase lessened the impact as all the
leading nations will qualify so he’s contrived to create some artificial
excitement for audiences with a week-long spectacular. Speaking here in Nice
on Saturday, Uefa’s president had a riposte for each criticism. The deal via
centralised TV rights would ensure that the 54 national associations would
be wealthier. “Of course. Otherwise they would never have accepted it. All
The FA and the DFB disapproved. On hearing that Germany’s coach, Joachim Loew,
had lambasted the rise to 24, Platini said: “He shouldn’t play it (Euro
2016) then, in that case. It’s a decision that was taken by the vast
majority (at the Uefa Congress of 2009). Two or three associations – like England,
Germany, the big ones – weren’t in favour, but of the 54, 51 actually
supported the tournament. So, in any democracy, when the vast majority are
in favour, you go forward with it even if England or Germany aren’t in
“We can have 24 very good teams, so this tournament can be a success. From the
dry-run this morning, I realised there’ll be a lot of pressure on teams.
There are some very strong teams. The five or six biggest teams don’t have
much to worry about…But 24 teams will be as good as 16 teams.”
It is nonsense of course with the middle classes allowed in. It will keep many
television companies happy and also delight many national associations,
always a useful exercise with Platini deciding after this summer’s World Cup
whether he will stand against Sepp Blatter for the Fifa presidency.
The draw could be slightly tricky for a seeded nation like England but even
the worst-case scenario of Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro, Iceland and
Kazakhstan still sees two go through, still sees a play-off for the third
(which might have rescued Steve McClaren’s rain-soaked team in 2007). The
safety net is wider. Nice should hold few fears for the likes of Roy
Hodgson, who jetted in on Saturday night.
“The city hums to the rhythm of this genuine, fairytale event,” declared the
tourist website for Nice, detailing the main attraction of the weekend. The
Uefa fairy-tale? The story of how 16 metamorphised into 24? No, it was the
“Battle of Flowers” staged on the Promenade des Anglais on Saturday
afternoon when an approximated 100,000 mimosa, daisies, roses, and lilies
were thrown to the Riviera revelers.
More garlands will be handed to the wealthy today with straightforward draws.
Unlike old events in the Nice Carnival, the balls today are not masked, nor do
the conspiracy theorists believe they need to be heated. We know that Spain
cannot draw Gibraltar or Azerbaijan play Armenia. There is no real tension
to the hour-long televised show. Even the tournament itself scattered across
France in 2016 will lack much early drama with the 36 group matches
eliminating only eight teams.
For the draw, there will be the usual footballing class on stage, including
Ruud Gullit and Bixente Lizarazu plus 13 goalkeepers, notably Fabien
Barthez, Dino Zoff, Peter Schmeichel and Ray Clemence. Just to remind
England of their failures with penalties, Germany’s triumphant Andreas Kopke
from Euro 96 is in town.
But is the competition in safe hands? Platini’s expansionism is misguided. It
could accelerate an ennui with international football amongst fans in the
ground and those viewing, particularly at a time when the Champions
League provides such a classy, competitive counterpoint with
phenomenal entertainment as shown by Andres Iniesta, Zlatan Ibrahimovic,
Toni Kroos and company last week.
Running from September 2014 to October 2015 (and then November play-offs for
the third-placed teams), the seven special weeks will see double-headers
(including four friendlies) on Thursday and Sunday, Friday and Monday,
Saturday and Tuesday, meaning club managers will have players returning in
dribs and drained drabs from their national duties. “There are always issues
with club managers,” shrugged Platini. The standard kick-off time will be
19.45 UK with 17.00 and 19.45 on Saturdays.
Platini’s plan is to bring international football “back into the limelight”,
to give broadcasters and supporters six nights of international football. He
dodged the question of whether he “feared divorce rates rising”. Anyway, it
is a moot point how much appetite there will be in the UK to watch Albania
against Andorra live.
International football should be kept elitist, competitive. It really should
be played in two three-week blocks every year, allowing international
coaches time to work with players.
Compromising the draw further, France’s
presence is pointless in every sense. Their results do not count. They will
just float around, France qualify automatically as hosts but have been
placed in Pot Five and will play games to give them significant tests. “It’s
not easy for teams who are in that position of not having to qualify,” added
Platini. “It’s a good proposal from Uefa. They can play these matches home
and away, a good thing. They came up against Portugal, Denmark and Israel,
and Armenia, in the dry run today.”
The Euros were always considered a harder test from the very start, with no
weakness in the group. Now, the entry is smoother, a nightclub with a
liberal door policy. Got a pulse? Got a few quid? Please step inside.
The frustration is that international football needs properly fighting for as
clubs grow ever stronger and the tournaments after Euro 2016, the vast,
slightly suspect 2018 World Cup in Russia, the bloated Euro 2020 spread
across the Continent and then Qatar 2022, a tournament born of a morally
moribund Fifa ExCo and now mired in the death of migrant workers..
Platini was on stronger ground when addressing other issues of the days,
including Uefa’s campaign for the International FA Board to end the “triple
punishment” of those like Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny who suffered a
penalty, red card and suspension for bringing down Bayern Munich’s Arjen
Robben at the Emirates last week. “The referee has to respect the stupid
rules,” said Platini of the punishment for denying an obvious goalscoring
opportunity. “For 15 years, we’ve been asking to change the rules, for a
yellow card and penalty. Now it’s up to the British and Fifa (on IFAB) if
they want to change the rules. They should listen to the voice of the world
on this issue.”
Uefa’s president superficially tiptoed around the Quenelle controversy which
has led to his compatriot, Nicolas Anelka, being charged by the FA for
making the anti-semitic gesture after scoring for West Brom.
Platini spoke of Uefa’s “zero tolerance”, adding significantly that “any
display of racism on a Uefa pitch will be sanctioned and penalised”,
implying that Anelka was solely an FA problem. Yet he made a point about how
Uefa would react. Platini emphasised that any Quenelle seen at a Uefa event
would lead to tough sanctions. “It was the case in Futsal, too, and we’ll
take firm decisions on that – zero tolerance,” added Platini of the gesture
allegedly made by the Belgian, Omar Rahou, in a Uefa futsal championship
last month. Rahou faces a 10-game ban.
Platini also underlined Uefa’s commitment to Financial Fair Play, stating that
“FFP is for everyone” and implied that the lawyers were waiting. The divorce
lawyers could be waiting when the television schedule gets even more
inundated with football from September.