Jamie Carragher exclusive column: How I would save the Champions League, by the Liverpool defender (who won the competition in 2005)
11:55 GMT, 5 December 2012
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The Champions League, for the last decade, has been the best tournament in world football. In my opinion, it has been superior to both the World Cup and European Championship.
Those high standards would be under threat, though, if it was to expand from 32 teams to 64, as Michel Platini has suggested might happen.
Football is always evolving and I understand that new ideas have to be implemented from time to time but increasing the numbers competing in the Champions League is not the way to go.
game should count: Arsenal fielded an understrength side in their
defeat by Greek side Olympiacos because they had already qualified,
while Manchester City (below) fell to Borussia Dortmund
If you look at the way the group stages have fizzled out over the last couple of years, you will see that more teams won’t raise the quality. Interest in the group stages has been dwindling and it has only been at the quarter-final stages that the competition has come alive.
So how does Platini make the Champions League exciting right from the start
Apart from winning the tournament in 2005, the best experience I had in the competition came during the 2001-2002 season when there were two group stages.
On the brink: Chelsea face an early exit from the Champions League just months after winning the Final (below)
After getting through the first phase, when Liverpool were drawn with Boavista, Borussia Dortmund and Dynamo Kiev, we were paired with Barcelona, Galatasary and Roma.
That type of group is what the Champions League is about. Every game meant something, every goal that was scored mattered.
We only ended up getting through to the quarter-finals by beating Roma 2-0 in the last game at Anfield. It was the night Gerard Houllier returned to the dugout after he had suffered a heart attack.
Part of the plan: Carragher's concept for change would see the first knockout round of the draw seeded so the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid would avoid each other early on
WHEN THE EUROPEAN CUP WAS A KNOCKOUT…
Brian Clough guided Nottingham Forest to their first European Cup win 1979 as 'Old Big Ead's' men negotiated their way through a tough knockout format en route to glory.
Here's how they did it…
First round: v Liverpool, won 2-0 (1st leg: 2-0; 2nd leg: 0-0)
Second round: v AEK Athens, won 7-2 on agg (1st leg: 2-1; 2nd leg: 5-1)
Quarter-final: v Grasshopper, won 5-2 on agg (1st leg: 4-1; 2nd leg: 1-1)
Semi-final: v Cologne, won 4-3 on agg (1st leg: 3-3; 2nd leg: 1-0)
Final: v Malmo, won 1-0
Of course, the obvious problem with two group stages would be fixture congestion. I read with interest Martin Samuel’s observations in his column on Monday, about returning the competition to pure knockout football all the way through.
My idea would be to strike a balance – keep 32 teams but start things off with a knockout round, with all qualified teams needing a win to get through. So this year, for instance, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea would have to have to win through a high-stakes knockout round first.
The draw for the knockout stage would be seeded, so you would never get a situation where Barcelona faced Real Madrid.
Some people might say that is unfair to the smaller teams and nations that Platini wants to get involved. He should be credited for trying to help them but it is taking things away from the group stage.
Surely the minnows in the competition
should want to prove that they belong in the competition Wouldn’t that
create more excitement But with so much to lose, you could guarantee
that all the seeded teams would be fully committed, regardless of who
they were playing. That, in turn, would lead to better games.
would then be left with four groups of four, with the top two going
through to contest the quarter-finals. You could almost guarantee that
every game in the group stage would mean something and be of a high
Over to you: Jamie Carragher believes UEFA president Michel Platini should change the format of the Champions League
Wouldn't it be great if all the groups were of the quality of the one this season that contains Real Madrid, Dortmund, Ajax and Manchester City
The problem when you have a 32-team group stage is that a lot of fixture can be monotonous. The World Cup group stage, for instance, doesn’t have the same intensity as the European Championship.
Sealed with a kiss: Jamie Carragher celebrates Liverpool's 2005 Champions league success with Steven Gerrard in Istanbul
Of course, the idea might get opposition from the big clubs, who would be fearful of falling out at the first hurdle and missing out on the subsequent revenue but wouldn’t that make things more interesting and exciting
The aim for the Champions League has to be for every group game to mean something but, at the minute, they do not – just look at some of the matches that were played this week.
When the Champions League was revamped in 1992, nobody would have envisaged teams playing weakened sides. That, however, is now the reality.
Jamie Carragher was talking to Dominic King