Memo to Platini: please don't change Euro 2012's winning format
The next European Championships will expand from 16 to 24 teams. It will make for a more boring tournament
AP Photo, Czarek Sokolowski
Dear M. Platini,
Like other football fans across Europe, and indeed the world, I've been enthralled by Euro 2012. We've had some great games, lots of goals and some tremendous excitement.
There have been shocks and surprises aplenty - with Russia, who started the tournament with a 4-1 demolition of the Czech Republic, being eliminated after a defeat by Greece, and Holland, one of the tournament favourites, failing to register even a single point.
The 2008 Euros was a fantastic tournament, too: we can all remember the incredible never-say-die exploits of Turkey, the attacking dynamism of a young and emerging Germany and the brilliance of the tournament winners Spain, but 2012 has surpassed even that - and to think the knockout stages haven't even begun yet.
This year's European Championships has been so very different from the boring and sterile 2010 World Cup, where there were many disappointing matches. Yet my enjoyment of the tournament is tinged with sadness. I fear that due to changes that your organisation is making to the competition, we will never have such an exciting European Championships again.
Starting from 2016, Uefa has decided that the number of teams taking part in the Euros will be increased from the current 16 to 24. But more teams will mean a worse tournament - not a better one.
The reason why the Euros excites, while modern World Cups tend to be sleep-inducing, is its format. Sixteen teams ensures an ultra-competitive tournament free of dead wood, one in which any team can beat any other - as we saw with Greece's victory against Russia on Saturday and the same country's sensational overall triumph in 2004.
A 16-team tournament means we're guaranteed some mouthwatering clashes early on in the competition. In this year's Euros, Spain v Italy and Germany v Holland matches were played in the first week of the contest. A 24-team tournament would be padded with matches whose results would be far easier to call and as a consequence, less interesting to watch.
Such a tournament would also be too long (lasting between 29 and 31 days as opposed to the current 24 days), and would mean more cautious, safety-first football and a greater likelihood of boring 0-0 draws. In the current competition, teams know that they have to finish in the first two in their group to progress to the knockout stages. But under the new format, the top two in each of the six groups will be joined by the four best third-placed teams.
It would be perfectly possible for a team to qualify for the last 16 with three draws in the group stages - and so avoiding defeat will become more important than winning games. Just imagine if Friday's England v Sweden encounter had been played under the new format. Would both teams have tried so hard for a victory in that pulsating second half? What made the game so exciting was the fact that neither side was happy to settle for a draw.
When both teams go all out to win a football match you generally get a great game, but a 24-team tournament where third-placed teams can still qualify will mean there will be fewer 'must-win' games and more dour stalemates. More teams will inevitably mean a dilution of the quality of the tournament, contrary to what you told reporters in Warsaw on Monday.
There are 53 members of Uefa, so almost half of the teams in Europe will make it to the finals. Qualifying, therefore, will no longer be such a big achievement. Smaller European countries may have been lobbying for the changes, but there's nothing to stop smaller countries from qualifying at present - if they're good enough. Croatia, a country of 4.29 million people, has qualified for four of the last five Euros. Latvia, which has just 2.2 million people, made it through to the 2004 finals.
Expansion to 24 teams won't necessarily mean more smaller nations competing in the finals, but more bad teams making it. England didn't qualify for the 2008 finals because they weren't good enough - and the fact that such 'big' footballing nations can sometimes miss out enhances the prestige of the competition.
It's not just fans like myself who are worried about the planned changes. Senior football figures are unhappy too. Wolfgang Niersbach, the president of the German football federation, has expressed his "mixed feelings" about increasing the number of participants and said that he regards the 16-team format as "ideal".
While you yourself have already conceded that a 24-team tournament would be "less dramatic in the groups". You have also said that the demise of Holland - the World Cup runners-up in 2010, shows that the Euros are a "more difficult" tournament. So why try and make it easier?
M. Platini, it is not too late to reverse your plans. Please think back and reflect on the great action and drama we've witnessed in the Ukraine and Poland over the past two weeks. You have the world's most exciting football tournament but your changes will ruin them.
The Euros - unlike the euro - aren't broke. So why try and fix them?