4 Friday, July 12, 2019 05:28

MARTIN SAMUEL: Ignore the spin, protecting the elite is UEFA's only concern

Ajax. Its all about poor little Ajax. UEFAs latest protectionist scheme is focused on favouring the underdogs.Of course it is. Theyre all heart, as ever. Aleksander Ceferin, the UEFA chief, wants to give the Champions League semi-finalists, not just the winners, automatic qualification to next seasons event.

He was clearly moved by Edwin van der Sars speech at the European Leagues meeting in May, bemoaning that his club reached the last four of the Champions League, but would have to sell players this summer because there was no guarantee they would qualify for the group stage in 2019-20.

UEFA are attempting to suggest their protection scheme is all about favouring the underdogs We would like to protect teams like Ajax this year, or Monaco and Leicester City before, said Ceferin.

 Ajax played the semi-finals this year and now they will have to sell all their players, because they dont know if they will qualify for the Champions League next year.Yes, but whose fault is that? Who guaranteed 19 of 32 group stage places to clubs from just five countries: England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France? Who made it such a closed shop that even winning the Dutch league, as Ajax did, no longer ensures a place in the Champions League group stage? That was UEFA.

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.. Share this article Share France have produced one Champions League or European Cup winner in 64 years of competition - Marseille in 1993, a victory tainted by corruption after it emerged Valenciennes were paid to lose a league game, so Marseille would have more time to prepare for their final with Milan.

They were stripped of their league title, and banned from defending their European crown the following season. Yet this hugely underachieving league gets three guaranteed places in the final 32, and the Dutch none.Italy receive four, having produced a single European champion since 2007. No team in Germany beside Bayern Munich have won the Champions League since 1997, yet their fourth-placed team will also make it in, unchallenged.

So thats Ajaxs problem - not that semi-finalists arent getting an even break.

Aleksander Ceferins UEFA guarantees 19 of 32 group stage places to just five countriesLets not pretend this is about championing upstarts, either. In the last 10 years, had semi-finalists received protected status, Real Madrid would have benefitted eight times, Bayern Munich seven and Barcelona six.

.Ceferin threw Leicester into the mix because he ran out of recent semi-final surprises after two - Ajax and Monaco - but.....

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