Opinion: It′s time to decentralize European football and give everyone a fair chance | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 08.06.2016
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Opinion: It's time to decentralize European football and give everyone a fair chance

The big leagues dominate European club football and it's the countries from those leagues who are expected to succeed this summer. But the expansion of the Euros gives hope to smaller nations, writes DW's Ross Dunbar.

There are multiple criticisms that can be laid at the door of UEFA, the governing body of European football, but expanding the European Championships is not one of them.

The body's premier club competition, the Champions League, has illustrated the problem the expansion of the Euros aims to solve in a microcosm: European football is less competitive than it ever has been.

Spain and, to a lessser extent, Germany, Italy and England have ruled the roost in continental football over the past decade. Spanish clubs have accounted for five of the last six Champions League finalists. There was an all-German final in 2013 when Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were at their peak, while it was Germany against England in 2012.

In fact, you need to go back to 2004 when Jose Mourinho's FC Porto met Monaco to find the last serious competitor from outside of this four-nation group.

Given their pre-eminence at club level, it's little surprise, that Spain and Germany are regarded as the front-runners for the championship in France, along with the hosts.

International success is intertwined with the club game. The German national team, for example, benefits from a network of academies and football centers worth more than a billion euros following the country's mini-revolution since 2000. Countries with a smaller, less mature football economy are unable to lay such foundations. But major tournament participation brings attention, money and - hopefully - improvement.

Fußball UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifikation Nordirland - Griechenland Steven Davis

Steven Davis and Northern Ireland have reached their first Euro finals.

The game needs more romance

The European Championships in France have rekindled a sense of romance in football. Northern Ireland, Albania, Iceland, Slovakia and Wales will make their debuts at the European Championships this summer. Scotland, Denmark and Bosnia and Herzogovina were among those who missed out but will be inspired for the next campaign.

If anything, UEFA has probably been too slow to embrace changes in its flagship competitions. At Euro 1992, there were only eight teams in the finals. Since 1990 - the start of the qualification cycle - 22 countries have joined UEFA for various reasons. Countries like Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia are being asked to stand on their own two-feet - and that requires time and support.

UEFA's Champions League has simply failed to deliver a competitive balance across the continent. Dominated by international TV ratings, product placement for a select number of sponsors, and who is most commercially appealing, the tournament can barely be considered as one which reflects the state of the game in Europe.

This is why expanding the championships to 24 teams should be welcomed. More teams with different football cultures should only add to the spectacle. There's now a clear balance between competition and accessibility. Expanding to 32 would be too much for a governing association with 55 full members.

The qualification process was as exciting as it has ever been with places decided on the final matchday. World champions Germany didn't have it all their own way, with Poland leading the group until the final round of fixtures. The financial rewards in France will be huge for many of the smaller nations.

Deutschland Fußball Bundesliga Fernsehen

TV money in Europe has separated the haves and have-nots

Better financial distribution

Each team will receive around 8 million euros for qualification. A win in the group stages is rewarded with a further one million euros, while a draw will net half-a-million. Qualification to the Last 16 nets a 1,5m euro windfall and a quarterfinal place is worth another 2,5m euros. If one of the less established teams reach the last-eight, that could generate up to 15 million euros, which would go a long way in developing facilities and improving coach education.

UEFA will hope to continue this strategy when the European Championships are taken around the continent in 2020. Cities, such as, Glasgow, Dublin, Baku, Saint-Petersburg, Copenhagen, Bilbao, Budapest and Bucharest will host tournament matches. Seeing Russia, Azerbaijan and others, at the top table may rub some of the more traditional countries up the wrong way, but decentralizing the game away from Madrid, London and Munich is the right call.

And it's one that can only benefit European football going forward.