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Beware: A sly plan by Andrea Agnelli to make the Champions League dull

For Andrea Agnelli, Serie A is not working. And if it is not working for the man whose team have won Italy’s title for an unprecedented seven seasons straight, imagine what it must be like for the rest of them.

Agnelli is the fourth member of his family to serve as chairman of Juventus. In his first season, 2010-11, the club finished seventh, after which he appointed Antonio Conte and hasn’t looked back. Yet it still isn’t enough. To dominate domestically doesn’t make Juventus — revenues last year £491.5million — enough money.

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‘The Serie A product has come to one of its lowest moments,’ Agnelli complained. Aston Villa have a bigger ground than Juventus these days, while 50 per cent of a new television deal worth £916.7m will be split equally among the Serie A clubs, in the hope of promoting competition. At the moment, only 10 per cent is subject to an equal share. You can imagine what Agnelli thinks of that.

For Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, who has seen his team dominate, Serie A is not working

Actually, you don’t have to, because he’s done the imagining for all. Last week, Agnelli launched his plan to screw even more money out of football — sorry, reshape the European game for the greater good. He wants to change the Champions League format so the group stage alone will last 14 games. He wants more matches for elite clubs, and less commitment to domestic football — and he wants a closed shop. Except he didn’t mention a closed shop. You had to read between the lines on that one.

Agnelli’s plan — and, do not forget, this is the chairman of the European Clubs’ Association talking — is for eight groups of four to become four groups of eight in the Champions League. ‘We want more European games and less domestic,’ he said. ‘Whoever participates has to play in the national league with six Under 21 or Under 23 players.’

We’ll get to the unexamined ramifications of that in a moment. First, let’s see how an eight-team league could shape up. It’s easy enough. We can take the 2017-18 Champions League groups and amalgamate: A and B, C and D, and so on.

So Group 1: Manchester United, Basle, CSKA Moscow, Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Celtic, Anderlecht. We can see the beginnings of the flaws already. Two clubs, at least, look certain to qualify and could be playing dead rubbers, or fielding weakened teams, long before the conclusion. Manchester United will be fairly hopeful, too.

Italian giants Juventus have won Serie A for an unprecedented seven seasons straight

Italian giants Juventus have won Serie A for an unprecedented seven seasons straight

So 56 matches to pretty much locate a fourth-placed team. Then there is the travel. Do Manchester United’s supporters have the finances for trips to Switzerland, Russia, Portugal, France, Germany, Scotland and Belgium — and this before the business end of the tournament gets under way?

Meanwhile, Group 2: Roma, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Qarabag, Barcelona, Juventus, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiacos. A strong field but with three clubs from eight having no chance whatsoever. One of the problems of the Champions League first stage is the 2 v 2 split: a group that has two strong clubs and two also-rans. Barcelona and Juventus, against Sporting and Olympiacos, for instance. Quite often, after the fourth game, what remains is meaningless.

Now think of that in a 4 v 4 split. Groups could be as good as over after eight games, leaving dead fixtures for some. Who wants to watch that? Who will tune in for Qarabag v Olympiacos with nothing on it — or even Barcelona versus Sporting, one already through, the other already out. This is a dismal plan.

But the devil, as ever, is in the detail — or in this case, in the lack of it. Wind back to Agnelli’s suggestion that elite clubs field age-group teams in domestic league matches to compensate for increased European engagements. He doesn’t say it but right there are the seeds of a Champions League closed shop.

There is no way the elite could play their youth teams for a third of the season and be guaranteed top-four finishes. Have a look at what happens in FA Cup ties when the Premier League clubs go weak. Jurgen Klopp played the kids plus Daniel Sturridge at Exeter in 2016 and almost got knocked out. Arsenal dialled down at Nottingham Forest this season and conceded four to a club with no manager.

Agnelli wants to change Champions League format so the group stage alone will last 14 games

Agnelli wants to change Champions League format so the group stage alone will last 14 games

If Manchester United played their Under 21 team against mid-ranking Premier League clubs they would lose — and probably lose enough not to finish in the top four. So Agnelli’s four-group, 32-team Champions League would have to come with certain guarantees to its members. Devaluing domestic competition would mean league positions could not be used to decide entry.

So what would? The only criteria men like Agnelli understand: wealth. The survival of the richest. He, and like-minded saboteurs of fair sport, would cherry-pick the entrants and there they would remain. Do not imagine a club such as Juventus could get relegated from Agnelli’s world. There would be no Leicester-like fairy tales, either, no surprises, no romance, nothing that is new — just a procession of the same old names, playing the same old fixtures, the majority of which will mean even less than they do now.

Agnelli would make the Champions League as dull as Serie A, as dull as the Bundesliga, as dull as the Scottish Premier League, or any of these competitions in which one club are so politically and economically powerful their success is guaranteed.

And when that boredom multiplies, as the world switches off, Agnelli will seek the solution in his next revolution. And he will decide that what the people want, once again, is for Juventus to become even richer than they already are: because his sort always do.

Agnelli's plans would make the Champions League as dull as the Italian top flight

Agnelli’s plans would make the Champions League as dull as the Italian top flight

Godin lies in wait for Mo

If Mohamed Salah makes it to the World Cup, his first game for Egypt will be against Uruguay, whose uncompromising central defenders are Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez of Atletico Madrid. 

A weak shoulder is not something to take into a meeting with those two. This could be the first dislocation to occur during a pre-match handshake.

If Mohamed Salah is fit for the World Cup, he will face Diego Godin in Egypt's first match

If Mohamed Salah is fit for the World Cup, he will face Diego Godin in Egypt’s first match

Vincent will soon turn the airwaves blue 

The most wanted footballer in Britain this summer is Vincent Kompany: not to play, but to comment. Sky and BT Sport believe he can solve their Manchester City problem. 

Here’s the dilemma. Manchester City are, plainly, the strongest force in the Premier League right now. They have also gone deep into the Champions League in consecutive seasons. Their success in the modern era is so new, however, that there isn’t an available player it is felt captures that development. 

The predicament was exposed in 2011 when Mike Summerbee was engaged to give the blue take on the Manchester derby. Not only, sadly, was Summerbee not a name familiar to a generation that thinks football started in 1992, he turned out to be too trenchantly blue for Sky’s liking — as good as dismissing Wayne Rooney’s stunning bicycle kick as a fluke. Sky appear to have given up on the pretence of impartiality on its panels — how else to explain Gary Neville’s bizarre trolling of Liverpool after the Champions League final — but allegiance cannot be allowed to override reality. 

Sky and BT Sport want to snap up Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany as a pundit

Sky and BT Sport want to snap up Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany as a pundit

And while guests such as Niall Quinn and Paul Dickov do a decent job, this cannot obscure the fact that the Manchester City they knew bore about as much relation to the Sheik Mansour era as 1960s Arsenal did to the time of Arsene Wenger. 

Not only is Kompany a modern, title-winning Manchester City captain, he is articulate, intelligent and widely respected: the perfect studio fit. 

The problem for BT and Sky is he appears to have several seasons left, meaning his appearances will be limited for now. Don’t think the ground has not already been laid by both sides, though. On retiring, Kompany will be as sought-after as at any time in his career.

Sorry Chris, your victory is tarnished 

Without doubt Chris Froome’s triumph in the Giro d’Italia is one of the achievements of the sporting year. His breakneck attack from 80km out during stage 19 on Friday was exhilarating, combining levels of bravery, physical endurance and recklessness in the downhill descents that bordered on lunacy. 

Inescapably, though, it wasn’t good for cycling. With such a cloud over his head, for Froome to perform so exceptionally at the Giro just increases the levels of mistrust and suspicion swirling around his sport. It will be the same at the Tour de France, if Froome’s circumstances are not resolved.

‘I don’t ride according to what Twitter trolls are going to write about,’ Froome snapped, after winning the race. 

Nor should he, but he might have given some consideration to cycling’s wellbeing. He must be cleared if this act is not to appear as selfish in hindsight as it was stunning live. 

Inescapably, Chris Froome's triumph at the Giro D'Italia wasn't good for cycling

Inescapably, Chris Froome’s triumph at the Giro D’Italia wasn’t good for cycling

De Gea can point way for Karius   

We hear a lot about what outfield players mockingly refer to as the goalkeepers’ union — the body that ensures goalkeepers always stick up for one another, and invariably think sympathetically of mistakes.

If such a thing does exist, however, Loris Karius could do worse than give fellow member David de Gea a call. The Manchester United man has risen from a calamitous introduction to English football to become the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, and maybe the world.

He did it, team-mates say, with laser focus on improving his technique. If there was a noticeable absence of sympathy from Karius’s Liverpool colleagues after his blunders on Saturday night, this is probably because it has long been felt that he lacks concentration.

Too much social media, too much exposure — they wanted less profile, more professionalism. None of De Gea’s errors were as dramatic as what unfolded against Real Madrid, and there may be no way back for Karius at Liverpool. Yet, if he is to have a future at Anfield, his work must be done in private, with the minimum of fuss and the maximum commitment. De Gea’s way is the only way.

Liverpool's Loris Karius could do worse than give fellow goalkeeper David de Gea a call

Liverpool’s Loris Karius could do worse than give fellow goalkeeper David de Gea a call

Michel Platini claims that he has been cleared of wrongdoing over the $2million he received from FIFA in 2011 and will soon be able to work in football again. 

‘After three years the ministry has restored the truth,’ he said. ‘This is the end of a nightmare. I will come back.’ 

However long it has taken, Platini’s return will have been easier than some of the trips to and from Kiev, the wholly unsuitable Champions League final venue, whose proposal was one of his last acts as UEFA president. Maybe remember that before welcoming this complete charlatan back to the fold. 

West Ham’s fans believe the identity of their club has been sold. Many do not like the new surroundings, the redesigned badge or the corporate ambitions. 

They resent the breaks with tradition, whether with old pre-match stamping grounds, or tilts at humble domestic trophies like the FA Cup. 

Bearing all this in mind, whoever decided to release a shirt for next season that abandons the blue sleeves the team have worn for all but nine seasons since 1900 is very brave. 

And what do they have on Sir Trevor Brooking that he has to front up every lousy decision? Are they holding a member of his family hostage in a back room?  

Unai Emery’s first signing as Arsenal manager is likely to be Stephan Lichtsteiner, a 34-year-old right back late of Juventus, on the bench as much as in the team, and available on a free transfer. It’s a bold new era, indeed.

Unai Emery's potential signing of Stephan Lichtsteiner shows it will be a bold new era

Unai Emery’s potential signing of Stephan Lichtsteiner shows it will be a bold new era

It was another new era for English cricket at Lord’s. Indeed, that’s the good thing about English cricket. If you don’t like this new era, there’s usually another along in a minute — and sometimes less, if we’re batting.

A most pleasing aspect of Fulham’s promotion is the anticipation of their survival. It used to be that doom was predicted for any team playing their way to the Premier League. 

‘They won’t get away with that,’ was the sage warning. More steel was required, of the sort manufactured by coaches like Sam Allardyce or Tony Pulis. It is not just an influx of foreign coaches that have changed this. 

Eddie Howe at Bournemouth has shown it is possible to aspire, and survive. Now the Fulham of Slavisa Jokanovic are considered to have more of a chance than the Cardiff of Neil Warnock. Nothing against Warnock, but that’s a positive sign. 

Obviously, these are serious allegations and further investigation is needed, but if I was making a list of 100 England cricketers most likely to fix a Test match, the three names in the frame would be numbers 98, 99 and 100. 

Fulham are considered to have more of a chance than Cardiff of surviving in Premier League

Fulham are considered to have more of a chance than Cardiff of surviving in Premier League


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