UEFA President Michel Platini has been a busy boy. Having been foiled in his nefarious scheme to sabotage the only European club competition that just about works, he’s now reset his sights on international football in the shape of Euro 2020. Ian Dacre dissects the pros and cons.
For anyone who missed it, Platini’s plan is to stage the bloated tournament (it’s expanding from a Kate Moss-esque 16 teams to a Mr Creosote-sized 24 from the next championship, France 2016) in cities all across the continent. Before anyone panics, it’s a one-off event marking the 60th anniversary of the Euros.
To make a massive, sweeping, statement, the football authorities rarely get anything right when it comes to ‘improving’ any aspect of the game – but does this latest caper deserve the wave of hostility it’ll be met with? Let’s try to be reasonable for a minute…
An international tournament is a great opportunity to have a mosey around a new country or two – often one you wouldn’t necessarily go to on holiday (sorry Ukraine). So the 2020 format, with some judicious planning and a minivan full of beer, offers scope for misadventures all over the continent.
Good for the little guys
Countries like Wales and Scotland are unlikely to be offered the chance to host a major championship, but do have one or two stadiums they’d like to show off. Other smaller football nations without massive stadia could also benefit – instead of having the interminable group stage played out in half-empty 60,000 capacity grounds, the smaller games could be played in grounds that reflect demand for seats, making for a better atmosphere.
No, not the prices, obviously – remember the pocket-liners organising it. But with multiple host nations, Euro 2020 won’t be short of teams with home advantage, at least early on – assuming they get to play in their home cities, which would make sense, before the luck of the draw kicks in after the group stage. Allowing smaller teams to play at home might also level the playing field (although given UEFA’s love of seeding and the status quo, that’s probably a pipe dream). So clear favourites will be hard to pick – a bookie’s nightmare…
White elephant extinction
As a faceless UEFA bureaucrat has already droned out, splitting the games up and having one stadium per host city would mean not having to build gigantic arenas that’ll never be used again – see poor old South Africa (I know, pedants, it’s not in Europe, but the point stands). All the grounds that are chosen should already be up to scratch. And it’ll be hilarious watching Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow trying to decide which club’s ground to pick – never mind European unity, there’ll be civil war…
Did you see the prices for flights to Ukraine? Astronomical. Over a grand during Euro 2012. Now imagine you want to follow England and are too travel-sickness prone to go for the excellent road trip idea. Flying to seven-plus cities (depending on the tournament format and how far the team progresses) won’t come cheap, especially when all the travel agents hike their fares for a month.
There was a fair bit of moaning at the last two international tournaments about teams having to travel a distance from their bases. So, France are holed up in a nice, cosy, Copenhagen hotel for the quarters, win, then travel 1,728.9 miles to Athens for the semi. Are they going to fancy that?
The problem with wanting to display all the best cities is that it could cancel out two of the positives. If the biggest cities in the biggest football nations get picked, we could be left with a scenario where all the smaller teams have away games and the groups are all walk-overs. And with only the biggest stadiums being used, empty seats could be an issue, especially with the cost of travel.
A World Cup or European Championship is a fantastic chance to put a host country on the map. The most successful ones consume the entire nation, ramping up the excitement for home fans and neutrals – and when the home team goes out, the atmosphere often suffers. A tournament all over the continent would be too fragmented to generate the party vibe – little pockets of noise fizzling out miles away from each other.
GETTING OFF THE FENCE
Having initially dismissed it as a hair-brained cop-out designed to stop another incredibly boring, bribe-ridden bidding war, I’m coming round to the idea of a European-wide tournament, especially if it’s a one-time-only offer. To make it work, I’d hold the group stages in smaller countries and mid-sized stadia, with the knock-outs moving into heavyweight territory, perhaps at the same venues as famous earlier finals. But who’s asking me, Michel?
The main problem is the expense – has anyone at UEFA seriously considered the fans in all this? Although you could argue that travelling to a tournament is a big expense anyway, and the multi-city/country format will actually give more supporters the chance to see top international teams. Which would be a plus.
So overall, it could work – but who knows? I’m sure we’ll all watch it. Wherever it all happens, the French will fight. The Dutch will sulk. The Germans will win. English penalties will be missed. Horrifically. Let’s hope UEFA can get the balance right, and the 2020 “Euro Euros” will be closer to the Champions League than the Cup-Winner’s Cup.