Could UEFA’s NextGen Series prove it is time for change?

The debate about breaking away from FIFA and UEFA is one that will rumble for years to come, especially if Blatter remains in charge for his whole tenure. But is it really time for change? Can we afford to rely on a corrupt governing body to rule world football? Do we want a shrinking violet in charge of the biggest European club football competition that the planet has ever seen? As a football fan my heart says this cannot go on, but my head is on the fence because I do enjoy the Champions League, European Championship and World Cup … Europa League not so much. So can change come about and if so how?

Well let’s take the systematic approach and just get in there!

UEFA Champions League (UCL), UEFA Europa League, UEFA European Championships and FIFA World Cup

For me, the UCL is a quality competition. It brings together Europe’s best, puts them through an interesting group stage which pushes on toward an exciting knockout round, leading up to the finale. Knockouts too early can be boring, so I agree with this format. So here at least, I can’t knock UEFA.

In my eyes, any breakaway would have to take a format pretty close to this, with the only changes being the quality of the teams that enter the group stages. There is always a ‘wooden spoon’ team that no-one has ever heard of and to make it more competitive, poorer quality sides could be excluded. With the emergence of France’s Ligue 1 as an exciting league once more, further competition in Spain, Germany and Italy, plus the continued strength of the Premier League you could comfortably have 4 teams from each country that could compete.

The Europa League is a different kettle of fish filled with teams of little or no interest, even if your own team is playing against them – can anyone name who Fulham have played in the qualifying rounds? Reform is needed here to make a competition that should be appealing, exciting and credible to the fans once more. The core of this competition should be taken from the 5th, 6th and 7th placed teams in the top leagues, plus the winners of the rest, with smaller nations who aren’t up to standard forced to rigorously qualify.

So changes need to be made, some big, some small – there is room to improve on what is an already good idea and sometimes this is the best method. But can a widespread change really take place? Well I look to the forthcoming NextGen Series for hope, despite that it is a tournament with UEFA involvement. The NextGen Series features the best under 19’s sides from 16 elite academies in 11 countries, and 1 winner is determined via a Champions League format competition.

I think this is a great idea for many reasons, a lot of which are not relevant in this debate, but what is relevant is that a brand new tournament like this can capture interest and gain a following. There is no doubt the proof will be in the pudding in terms of attendances and viewing figures, but this shows there is a need for something fresh, exciting and new and this is only an academy tournament. This will be a good bench mark to see if something new can work as it firmly places the emphasis of appeal on the club names/brands as the players will mostly be unknowns to the majority of fans.

For me the same applies for international competition as well. Both the European Championships and World Cup need a little bit of freshening up and I can also draw on The NextGen Series example for this. The teams that will be competing in the tournament are those who have exceptional academies, but some recognised faces are not included in this for now. A lot of the European power-houses of world football are not initially competing in the NextGen Series; Manchester United, Chelsea, AC Milan and Real Madrid are just a few of the clubs that will not be in the competition.

If the format of the World Cup was to change, it would be very difficult to include every nation initially in any new competition. What you do need is a hardcore group that are prepared to stick their necks out and give it a go. For example if the major nations, say the top 10 in the FIFA rankings, all left FIFA and therefore could not be part of the World Cup, the World Cup would be dead. But it would take such a group to make another tournament a success, so any change would need to rely on unity against FIFA so that a power breakaway could form. The same would apply for the European Championships .

This is a topic that I could write endless articles on, but in conclusion I feel that change can happen. We have until 2014 for the powers that be to sort themselves out. This also gives a good amount of time to see if new tournaments, such as The NextGen Series will demonstrate the power of club brands. There will also be plenty of time to organise who will be involved and how the ‘football family’ could be governed fairly and correctly under new leadership for both European and international competition. The future should be filled with optimism and excitement, but under the current regime it is filled with uncertainty that OUR game will exist in the dark ages of corruption and non-progress. For me it is time for change and only time will tell if anyone has the minerals to make it happen.

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