I’m a conservative. Before you get out the pitch forks, you’ll note the small ‘c.’ That means I’m a conservative in the classical sense; I believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and that one should be very, very careful when tinkering with things that may be a bit creaky but still, by-and-large, work.
My conservatism applies fairly rigorously to my opinions about football too, a sport that, despite all the hand-wringing over rule changes and adaptations, has remained true to the spirit of the game codified in a London pub in 1863. So I tend to get my back up whenever a journalist inevitably pens their “FIFA/UEFA proposal”, as Gab Marcotti did this morning in ESPN.
Marcotti wants the final round 6 of the Champions League group stage to remain ‘compelling,’ and he has a solution:
Why not make first place more meaningful? How about rewarding the two clubs who get the most points with a bye straight to the quarterfinals?
At the same time, take the four best third-place teams and the four worst second-place teams and have them play off against each other in February, with the winners advancing to the Round of 16, where they would face the four best second-place teams.
Interesting thought experiment this may be, this is a solution in search of a problem. The Champions League is probably the most exciting footballing competition in the world. Like most competitions however, it has some competitive blind spots, which mostly centre around the likelihood that December will arrive with the vast majority of teams already through to the knockout round or the Europa League.
Do we really need therefore a set of formulaic tweaks in order to wring out every last drop of meaningful football from a tournament that already gives us so much in the way of entertainment? Marcotti’s plan is interesting, but adds an added layer of complexity to a tournament that doesn’t need it. Isn’t it okay for football to enjoy a bit of a relaxing period ahead of the holiday season? Wouldn’t teams want a reason to start younger players in a quasi-competitive fixture?
We already live in a culture that demands life be a non-stop romp of meaningful moments heightened to the extreme. There’s apparently no time to take a dump and read the newspaper with all the beauty in the world. It would be nice if we could preserve some level of meaninglessness and give football a break in between screaming at it to entertain us forever and ever, amen.
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