Rangers used as leverage in £287m UEFA battle with stomach-churning move set to collapse
Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Rangers used as leverage in £287m UEFA battle as ESL plan collapses

The highly controversial European Super League (ESL) project stands on the brink of collapse after a fan and UEFA backlash which even resulted in Rangers being namedropped.

UEFA boss Alexander Ceferin railed against the “disgraceful” behaviour of twelve major European clubs based in England, Italy and Spain who wanted to form a lucrative, breakaway “closed shop” in place of current European competitions.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin namedropped Rangers as he railed against the ESL. (Photo by Paul Murphy – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

In doing so, Ceferin mentioned Europe as “needing” the likes of Rangers and even Old Firm rivals Celtic to “keep the dream alive”.

“We need to keep the dream alive,” said Aleksander Ceferin [BBC Sport].

“Uefa competitions needs Atalanta, Celtic, Rangers, Dinamo Zagreb and Galatasaray.

“There has been a shift in recent years, accelerated by the [Covid-19] crisis, that too often ignores what happens on the pitch and sporting merit, a shift that has to be stopped immediately.”

The proposal effectively abolished the European footballing coefficient system and would establish a World Series-esque league worth a reported £287m to its participants [New York Times].

Whilst the clubs intended to continue to perform on domestic soil this investment would undoubtedly give them a competitive advantage over the other sides in their respective national divisions.

Amid fan complaints all six Premier League sides involved – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd and Spurs – have since pulled out with La Liga club Atletico following suit.

AC Milan, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid are the other clubs involved with key stakeholder and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli conceding the ESL is no longer “up and running” [BBC Sport].

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli appears to have conceded defeat regarding the ESL proposals. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

But whilst this is being heralded as a small victory, it has brought further into focus the disparity of wealth and problems regarding the elite of European football, UEFA and the footballing pyramid.

Even as the debate raged regarding the ESL, UEFA passed through controversial proposals which will see the adoption of the so-called Swiss system to the Champions League from season 24/25.

This system will increase the number of competitors from 32 to 36, double the number of Champions League matches through a new grouping system, but most controversially, reserve a spot in the competition for an elite side who’ve missed out on qualification through their domestic league.

As part of this, one leading former UEFA executive in Lars Christer-Olsen pleaded with the authorities to ensure the new spots be “allocated in a way that more associations can be represented in the Champions League”.

Olsen also claimed “we actually prefer champions from Scotland, Denmark or Switzerland to qualify” saying “it must not be given to one of the ‘Big Five’ associations” [Herald].

However, even these contributions appear to have been ignored in a desperate attempt to pacify and protect the interests of those greedy, top-heavy elite clubs.

The reality is that in a chase to dominate the Champions League in particular, clubs have spent outwith their means and failed in their footballing operations, with their top heavy, financially imprudent structures being further exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Generating even more money – and resultant debt – is their attempt at a solution to this self-serving problem.

The UEFA coefficient system and the offering of Champions League places to the bigger divisions has increased the wealth gap and made it more difficult than ever for teams from smaller footballing nations to reach the competition’s group stages. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Whilst Ceferin talks about Rangers and Celtic keeping the dream alive, the actions of UEFA have made it more difficult than ever to navigate qualification.

The Champions of smaller nations are forced to navigate several rounds to just qualify for the tournament and yet here UEFA are, offering up spots to teams who aren’t even there on merit.

That said, Rangers’ contribution to the coefficient this season means there is an automatic Champions League place for Scotland the season after next.

Whilst the point still stands – and has certainly impacted Celtic more in the last few years with a series of failed qualification attempts – Rangers’ relegation set Scotland back years at the European top table.

Rangers might’ve been used as leverage by UEFA in the fight against the ESL but the Ibrox club are also a victim of UEFA’s pacification of the biggest sides. (Photo by Willie Vass/Pool via Getty Images)

But if UEFA are serious about keeping the “dream” alive, then perhaps they should reconsider putting up obstacles to them for sides they will readily use as leverage in their own arguments.

Or even reconsider facilitating them on a nice comfy pillow for underperforming rich sides who’ve overspent and underwhelmed in their overpaid leagues.

In the immediate aftermath of the project being announced, it had plenty down south making an age-old Rangers and Celtic proposal.

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