Men against (Young) Boys: UEFA money in the Swiss top flight
I know, I know, I know...you already know all about what's gone in the Raiffeisen Super League (the Swiss top flight to you) this season. But there are those who could do with a recap, so bear with me.
On 28th April 2018, Young Boys confirmed themselves as 2017/18 champions of the Swiss Super League with a 2 - 1 victory over Luzern. This triumph is their first league title in 32 years. This was not what anyone expected last summer.
Before this season, Basel - let's face it, probably the only Swiss team you could name off the top of your head - had won the previous eight titles in a row. Young Boys' success is an upset then, to say the least.
There's a very good reason for Basel's erstwhile dominance. That sweet, sweet UEFA dollar. Traditionally, only the top team in Switzerland automatically enters the Champions League group stage. The runners up must play - and generally lose - a play-off for entry. This means that for each of the last eight seasons (and for 11 of the last 15), Basel have been getting a hefty UEFA payout of around €20 million each year as a reward for Champions League qualification.
In a league with an average weekly attendance in the region of only 10,000, this sort of money pouring into a single club has been a growing concern for Swiss football's governing body. The Swiss Football League (SFL) were last season considering ways to redistribute wealth amongst all ten of the Super League teams in order to encourage a more competitive tournament.
The SFA certainly regarded a single team winning the league eight seasons on the bounce to be a problem. They were almost certainly expecting eight to become nine, hence talk of measures being taken to level the playing field (typical Swiss neutrality).
Part of the SFA's concerns are that from the 2017/18 season onwards, financial rewards for Champions League qualification are set to increase further. Potentially this would have allowed Basel to pull even further ahead of the pack.
Enter Young Boys, who by winning the league, have changed everything. Problem is, they couldn't have timed it worse.
As part of the Champions League format reshuffle that includes the aforementioned raise in financial rewards, the champions of Switzerland no longer automatically enter the group stage of the Champions League. Instead, Young Boys' European campaign will begin with the Champions League play-off round. It could well end there too.
Whilst their domestic season must be considered a disaster, Basel have impressed in this year's Champions League by reaching the last 16. The notion of Young Boys getting anywhere near this is fanciful. You also have to wonder if they have what it takes to make it past the play-off round.
Young Boys' league title does give hope that Basel's monotonous cycle of success can be broken. Unfortunately though, the damage for now has been done. A decade of having financial powers that far outweigh your rivals, and being the most attractive proposition for talented foreign players will do that.
Not that Basel should be considered the big bad bullies of Swiss football. In fact, there is much they should be applauded for.
It is a shame that their rise has caused the fall in competitive standards in their domestic league. This could all change should Young Boys make the most of their Champions League experience. Given that they are team who have never even made a significant impression upon the Europa League though, that is it a lot to ask. It must also be considered, that should they reach the Champions League group stage, their focus upon their European involvement could understandably harm their domestic form. Therefore, normal, Basel-dominated service looks set to resume soon.
The Young Boys triumph is a great story, and this has clearly been a good season for Swiss football. But if they really want a truly and regularly competitive domestic league format there is still work to be done.
What responsibility do UEFA have for this? Is it not a legitimate concern that repeated success for a single team from a smaller footballing nation might be killing their domestic game? As Claudius Schaefer, CEO of the SFL, puts it, "the ones handing out the money should divide it up better and it shouldn’t be the role of the national leagues to do this"
To frame it in a Premier League context, imagine if a percentage of the funds attained by the top four for Champions League qualification were allowed to trickle down the league. Would this lead to a more competitive division? Then again, we probably can’t trust mid-table Premier League sides not to all do an Everton and spend £150 million on playmakers they don't need.
The Premier League needs no more Davy Klaassens. It could do with revitalising its competitive edge though. Given the relative paucity of genuine title races across Europe in recent years, this is clearly a continental problem, and one UEFA needs to face up to its responsibility for.