The Danish champions have been involved in high-level discussions about a breakaway championship but that is not the answer to their issues
FC Copenhagen, stop the negotiations please. The so-called “Atlantic League” breakaway is not worth considering. There are impediments that prevent the perennial Danish title holders and their counterparts in Europe’s other middling leagues competing at the top level in the Champions League but removing themselves from their national championships and competing among themselves in obscurity is not the answer.
These clubs are trapped to an extent in a vicious circle. Competitiveness in their own national leagues is distorted by their current level of dominance, that lack of competitiveness turns fans off so opportunities to raise broadcasting or commercial funds are limited and on it goes. Copenhagen director Anders Horsholt confirmed to Danish publication BT last week that all plans regarding a regional super league were still on the table.
"If we do not act now, we will see the biggest clubs grow larger and stronger while it will be increasingly difficult for clubs like us,” he said. “We must therefore look at alternative international opportunities for FCK in the future.
“Here it is still too early to talk about specific models, but the discussion of leagues across European borders is a theme that we are looking at and actively participating in."
He also confirmed discussions with other clubs trapped in similar predicaments. The likes of Celtic, Malmo, Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Anderlecht have all been contacted about the possibility of splitting off from their own domestic duties in pursuit of a collective championship among themselves.
Where this would leave these clubs in regard to Uefa’s competitions at the moment is anyone’s guess and that is just one reason why this idea should be shelved.
We do understand the issue that Copenhagen and Co. have when it comes to the Champions League. Yes, they qualify but no, they cannot compete. All too often domestic dominance is futile when the might of a Barcelona or Bayern Munich is encountered at the first turn.
We also understand the limited appeal of their own domestic championships given the supremacy they enjoy over their so-called rivals. It can get quite tiresome watching the same teams winning the same titles over and over again.
However, further up the food chain, the situation is not that much different. Bayern, Barca, Juventus and PSG for example enjoy a hegemony that matches anything further down the league ladders. The answer is not to quit.
Copenhagen, Celtic and the rest also have to contend with the limited appeal of their national leagues to a wider audience. The likes of Ajax and Feyenoord are big traditional clubs that have found it increasingly difficult to sustain relevance in the modern era.
It doesn’t help that the money elsewhere is so much better and so they rarely get to enjoy the fruits of their fine academies for a good deal of time. Quite often their best talents are taken to England before they’ve kicked a meaningful ball in the first place.
Again, to quit will not fix this. All it means is that these clubs would occupy a nowhere-land between the have-nots in their own championships and the teams at the top. It is difficult to see who would be attracted by it.
If the argument is falling attendances, then what kind of right-minded fan would leave Glasgow every second weekend to go to games in Sweden, Norway and Belgium? Cost of transport, tickets and accommodation would mean following an obscure championship costing an awful lot of money for local fans.
These clubs – led by Copenhagen – might also be willing to risk killing their own national championships for this venture. Who is going to watch the Dutch league if Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord are removed from it? Likewise, what kind of fan is Hibernian – Hearts going to attract outside Edinburgh let alone Scotland?
These championships are reliant on the big clubs to swell attendances and to add a bit of intrigue from outside. That disappears if the “Atlantic League” takes off.
Nothing is likely to happen until after 2021 when the next Uefa club competitions cycle is completed. An agreement between Uefa and the European Club Association was recently met with disdain by these middling teams as they conferred too much favouritism on the biggest teams and championships.
From 2018-2021 teams representing the top four national associations – currently Spain, England, Germany and Italy – will have four teams automatically qualify for the Champions League group stages. Only 16 places will be divided out amongst the rest.
That means some squeezing of the current number offered. Again, there is sympathy for these clubs but they have also got to realise that these big beasts need to be fed.
Uefa needs to grow revenues to cover the costs of organising the competitions and the best way to do this is to pit the best teams against the best teams. That is what gets wider appeal. With all due respect, losing the likes of Copenhagen is no great threat.
Beyond 2021, well that’s another issue. The threat of money from China tempting Europe’s best teams to compete with other sides from Asia and Latin America remains but it’s not yet certain that the likes of Real Madrid or Arsenal would risk the fate of their national championships to take part. More needs to be done to help clubs further down the pecking order to grow and develop, that’s for sure.
Right now, the answer is uncertain but no way should Copenhagen and Co. jeopardise top-level football in their own countries for the sake of a meaningless "Atlantic League" destined to be a washout.