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Nov 16, 2007

Defeat for the professional politician

You've got to hand it to Michel Platini. The former French international has made the transition from midfield maestro to professional politician with consummate ease.

Take this week for example; despite being dealt a crushing blow in his first real battle with European football's most powerful clubs and leagues, Platini somehow managed to accentuate the positives and spin bad news into good.

Or at least he tried to.

By failing to push through proposals to radically overhaul the Champions League, the UEFA president failed to fulfil one of the central tenets of his election mandate.

However, like any politician he chose not to call a defeat a defeat, but rather insisted that the plan remains on the table and that it could be looked at again in three years, and furthermore pointed to successes in bringing in other, far smaller, changes.

Platini's plan was to expand the Champions League to allow automatic qualification for the champions of six smaller European countries and to have sixteen winners of domestic cups enter a qualifying round.

This would have meant that the top leagues, such as those in England, Italy and Spain would lose their fourth qualification place, but as a sweetener Platini was prepared to offer automatic qualification to the third-place team. (At present only the top two sides are guaranteed an automatic place in the Champions League proper).

Frustratingly for Platini at UEFA's professional football strategy council meeting earlier this week he was out-manoeuvred by the big clubs and big leagues, who were vehemently opposed to his plans.

The clubs said 'yes, please' to the offer of three automatic qualification places to the Champions League proper, but 'no, thanks' to the suggestion of the cup winner taking the fourth qualification berth.

Therefore the grander elements of Platini's proposals were stymied, though his plan to include six champions of smaller nations, such as Scotland, to qualify automatically were passed, thus allowing him a token victory over the powerhouses of European football - the very forces he hoped to weaken following his election as president.

Privately Platini knows this represents a defeat and, following Monday's meeting, no press conference was held to reveal the outcome of the day's discussions. It is fair to assume that had Plainti's proposals been accepted there would have been a considerably more triumphant announcement.

Nevertheless, the new proposals, which are set for introduction in 2009, have not been officially ratified; that will happen on November 30 at the next UEFA executive committee meeting.

Therefore there still remains a slight chance that Platini will reverse the decision, and choose to ignore the wishes of the clubs and leagues. But he knows that doing so would be tantamount to declaring a civil war within UEFA and could ultimately lead to a breakaway European super-league.


Good news this week for soccer fans in Seattle with the announcement that the city will become home to a new and, as yet unnamed, Major League Soccer franchise in 2009.

With the San Jose Earthquakes already confirmed as the MLS's 14th franchise from the 2008 season, Seattle will become the league's 15th operation a year later and with MLS commissioner Don Garber hinting at interest from several cities in the US and Canada to become the 17th and 18th franchises, the MLS appears to be in rude health.

But while the happy folks in Seattle sip another celebratory Starbucks spare a thought for those in Vancouver who were told in no uncertain terms that the Whitecaps will not be granted an MLS berth anytime soon.

Speaking on the matter of MLS expansion Garber told the Vancouver Sun: 'Vancouver can only get into [the] mix with a proper stadium'. Which is pretty frank feedback: honest and to the point. Vancouver, it's over to you.

The calibre of the Seattle's franchise home stadium is understood to have been vital in their successful campaign to gain access to the MLS. Their fixtures will be played at the superb Qwest Field, a $430million stadium opened in 2002 and which was specifically designed to host both American Football and soccer.

As for establishing itself as important part of the city's sporting conscience, and in an effort to foster ties with the local community and make fans feel part of something bigger, the Seattle franchise has embraced a novel membership system which will allow fans an approval vote on the club's manager and to make suggestions as to the franchise's new name.

Hopefully the city's team will continue to be known as the Seattle Sounders after the former NASL and current USL outfit, a wonderful moniker and one with fantastic heritage dating back to 1974.


The dreams of many football fans came to fruition this week when the website MyFootballClub.com agreed a deal, in principle, to buy the English conference side Ebbsfleet United and in so doing took a giant step towards creating a unique supporter-owned football club.

There are now over 50,000 members of the MyFootballClub trust, of which 20,000 in 70 countries have paid just £35 each in order to provide a £700,000 takeover fund to acquire controlling stake in Ebbsfleet.

As a result each member who has parted with cash now owns an equal stake in the club and will have an equal say in how the club is run both on and off the pitch, from team selection to managerial changes and player transfers.

Currently in ninth place in the conference Ebbsfleet, formerly Gravesend and Northfleet, are just one promotion from reaching League Two and making it into the Football League pyramid for the first time in its history.

Why Ebbsfleet? Well, MyFootballClub conducted a poll via its website and sought to takeover the club that was closest to meeting the following criteria: there was no or only manageable debt, the club had the potential to reach the Premier League, the club had a decent stadium serviced by decent public transport links, that the club was amenable to the approach and finally that 51% or more of the football club shares could be bought.

The takeover should be complete by the end of the year giving the MyFootballClub trust control of the club.

The plan is for the existing board of directors to remain in their roles (albeit unpaid and without any executive powers) and act out all the decisions as voted for by the trust's members.

So what do the players and the manager, former Republic of Ireland international defender, Liam Daish make of this remarkable and unusual turn of events.

Speaking to the Independent, Daish said: 'I'm not going to lie and say there's no trepidation. But [it] is an exciting thought. Totally new. I'm looking forward to where it can take us, hopefully in the right direction. This isn't just some off the cuff idea, it's totally revolutionary'.

And as for the players Daish says he got a 'positive' response when he told them of the development: 'The players' profile will increase. People around the world will know who they are. The players can dismiss it, or embrace it - and I think they'll embrace it, all of us are in this together.'


  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Phil Holland.