The Blind Hammer Column

Blind Hammer looks at UEFA Proposals.

It may seem odd considering European Football whilst we are languishing at the foot of the Premier League. Yet if the Pellegrini project, over time, is only moderately successful, participating in the new UEFA plans for a Third tier European competition may become a possibility.

European football, an occasional dream for so many PL clubs outside the top 6 or 7 may, for the first time, become a regular strategic ambition.

West Ham certainly has ambitions to compete in the upper reaches of mid table. It seems likely that any blub looking to finish in the top 10 could strategically embrace some more realistic European ambitions.

Details about the new competition are skimpy, which is surprising given that there are reported plans to introduce it as early as 2021. The new competition will involve 32 clubs, with 16 new places in addition to 16 clubs re-directed some the present 48 clubs in the Europa League. There will be some focus on helping clubs from smaller leagues. However it would be odd and unexpected if absolutely none of the extra 16 European places are allocated to the Premier League. UEFA are likely to have a commercial interest in extending PL representation in this new competition, especially in view of the appeal in the global brand of PL clubs.

What we know so far is that European Club Association (ECA) chairman Andrea Agnelli, who is also on Uefa’s executive committee, said the “the green light has been given” to the new competition.
Speaking at the annual general assembly of the ECA in Croatia, he said the third competition would increase the number of clubs involved in European football from 80 to 96.

Of course those of us who remember West Ham’s previous European campaigns will also realise that 3 European Competitions are not new. We competed in an era where the European Cup sat alongside a Cup Winners Cup and an Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Uefa has also experimented with the Inter toto cup in the past, a competition we also won.

The positive possibilities for teams like West Ham are obvious. This new competition is pitched as a “Third Tier” competition. It is a competition in which European Super Rich clubs will not feature, making progress in, and even possibly winning the competition a more realistic possibility.

The other main benefit is that it offers the opportunity for more consistent exposure to, and adaptation to the rigours of European Football. Not just West Ham, but many other mid-level PL Clubs have struggled to adapt to the demands of launching a European campaign whilst at the same time protecting their form against the rigours of domestic PL and Cup competition. It is no coincidence that Chelsea won the league whilst free of European commitments. The new competition could provide experience over time which could help transition to higher level European Competition.

West Ham’s involvement will not be motivated by prize money. The current Europa League rewards are derisory compared to the riches of the PL and the champions League. This inequality will almost certainly persist into the new UEFA competition.

Other problems will need serious consideration. Commercial TV rights for even Europa League matches are not guaranteed. Not all of Burnley’s early matches this year were televised. Further problems will emerge with identifying a distinctive TV schedule which does not conflict with existing commitments. It seems likely that this new competition may have to share the currently crowded Europa League Thursday scheduling.

However there will be opportunities for growth in West Ham. It is unlikely that the lack of TV interest in Burnley’s ties will be replicated with West Ham. When we were relegated to the Championship we had arguably greater domestic TV exposure from companies eager to include us in their Championship coverage.

The advantages for West Ham are not, then, in prize money. It would rather become an arena which could deliver realistic possibilities of success, an arena not dominated by the predictable dead hand of super rich Premier League clubs domination of existing silver ware.
The Devil, as ever, will be in the details of the competition. Pending this I will be extending a cautious welcome.
David Griffith