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Jan 29, 2007

Rae's Say: Robbing from the rich?

You really have to feel sorry for those poor old poverty-stricken Premiership teams. Everyone it seems is out to get them, not least new UEFA president Michel Platini.

How dare he threaten to take away a Champions League place beginning in 2009. Can he not see that the top English clubs are all struggling to make ends meet, given the lack of a lucrative television deal?

Let's hope you've spotted by now, that I'm taking the proverbial 'you know what!' The football world as we know it, will not come to a premature end, if Platini is as good as his manifesto pledge, and pushes through a switch to a maximum of three participants per country, in the UEFA Champions League.

I've heard all the arguments about fans being cheated should, heaven help us, Liverpool, Arsenal or Manchester United miss out, to the benefit of the Serbian or Bulgarian champions.

It was pointed out to me the other day, that Levski Sofia's group stage horribilus this term proves an important point. That is, champions from certain countries are simply not good enough to compete with the European elite.

The argument's all well and good, but the problem with the current system is that it makes the already rich, even wealthier, while the less well-off have queue up to beg for occasional scraps from the big guns' table. Margaret Thatcher and the late Milton Friedman would doubtless have approved of such a regressive economic model.

If we continue along the present path, in a few years, we'll have created an omnipotent elite that's virtually untouchable. Do we honestly want the Champions League to become an exclusive country club for teams from England, Spain and Italy, with everyone else a makeweight? Or do we want to give hope to middle-ranking countries, by indulging a small amount of social engineering. I know what side I'm on. Platini's egalitarian instincts are correct on this issue. The Premiership, La Liga and Serie A will survive.


Scottish Football Association bashing is akin to a national sport in my part of the world. Frankly, much of the cat-calling is absurd, and generally comes from people who have little idea how to tie their own shoelaces, let alone run a football federation.

That's not to say that the SFA always get it right. Consider the appalling appointment of Berti Vogts, and their failure to remove him while the national team suffered one ignominy after another.

However, it seems to me, the men at Hampden are back on the right track. Alex McLeish was always the best man available to succeed Walter Smith. Granted, it might have come a bit earlier than the former Rangers boss at 48 would have expected. I had thought a big club job was his preference, but this is a man who will command complete respect in the dressing room. Capped 77 times by his country, he never gave less than his all.

The realistic (typically Scottish) view might be that McLeish is taking over at a time when the only way is down. Despite the healthy European Championship qualifying position Walter Smith has bequeathed to the new boss, Scotland can't really be expected to finish ahead of both France and Italy when all is said and done.

Whether or not the Scots reach the finals in Austria and Switzerland, it's crucial that the national team, under Alex McLeish, continue along to the road to respectability.


For years, and with some justification, we've heard that the football played in Spain's Primera is the best of any league in the world. This season, I don't think anyone can honestly make that claim.

Don't get me wrong. The championship race itself is tight and tension-packed. Nevertheless, it's undeniable that there's something missing. The Barcelona of last season would likely be 8 to 10 ahead of the chasing pack by now. Barca's edge has been decidedly blunt for a couple of months, although it's logical to think that the February return of Samuel Eto'o and Leo Messi from injury, will prompt an upturn in blaugrana fortunes.

Inconsistency has bedevilled Sevilla, Real Madrid and Valencia at various points, yet all three are still title contenders.


I'm a great admirer of Stuart Pearce as a football man, and there is evidence that he could in time, become one of the better managers in the Premiership. But I fear 'Psycho' is biting off more than he can chew, in thinking that he can combine his job at Manchester City with that of England Under-21 coach.

Surely Pearce has enough pressure to deal with at his club. If results and performances deteriorate in the weeks and months ahead, critics will immediately lay the blame at the door of dual responsibilities.

I'm surprised that the Football Association don't want a full-time manager for the Under-21 set up. Keeping track of the country's top players in that age group is no easy task. For someone who's already a club boss, it's well-nigh impossible.


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