Premier League boss Richard Scudamore (left) should keep an eye on how the Danish league develops
This season, for the first time, the Danish Superliga’s top six clubs have broken away into a new league for the final third of the campaign.
It is a move the DBU hopes will inspire competition at the top of the table, while also offering a Europa League spot to the ‘best of the rest’ league below, which also splits into further complicated factions.
This week the fixtures for the Championship Round — as the DBU is calling it — were announced. And it is clear from the offset why the big clubs in Denmark wanted this change.
Not only do they avoid playing near dead rubber matches against the lesser teams — the gap between top and bottom in Denmark is between Championship and League 1 level — but they also get to play their rivals each week — a far more exciting prospect.
FC Copenhagen v Brondby is the biggest game in Danish football – a huge draw for TV audiences
FC Nordsjaelland and FC Midtjylland will also play in the Superliga playoffs
The Superliga hopes it will boost revenues from TV and gate receipts, with FC Copenhagen v Brondby and Nordsjælland v Midtjylland proving far more enticing fixtures.
And it is hoped that the more the top teams play each other, the better they will get. Therefore Danish teams may progress further into Europe, having been challenged to do so by their domestic opponents. Competition drives success.
But in order to do this the Superliga is, in effect, consigning the lower teams to their place. If you’re not good enough, you will stay not good enough. And this is where the Premier League should take note.
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Playoff may be best option to prevent complete breakaway
For there is a drive in England, as well as Spain, Italy, France and Germany, to create a new European super league that would detach the world’s biggest clubs from their domestic competitions for ever.
The demand is supposedly there, as is the money. Merely the talk of a 39th game — proposed by the Premier League a few years back — shows football’s decision makers are working on ways to secure their status at the top.
Last summer the bosses of five Premier League clubs were spotted in a London hotel — the Dorchester (if you’re in the area and fancy a popping in) – talking to an American billionaire on proposed future tournaments.
Bayern Munich’s CEO Karl Heinz-Rummenigge, who also happens to be chairman of the European Club Association that looks after the interests of the big guys, wants a breakaway European league.
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And all the while clubs from Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Scotland have proposed a secondary European league, jumping ship before they are pushed by the Big Five.
But what if there were to be an actual breakaway league – a jump further than what the Danes have done? What would happen if Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham said goodbye to the Premier League? It should be a genuine concern not only for the league but also the FA and the remaining clubs in England. For without these big six teams England's money pool would dry up dramatically.
The international recognition of the Premier League, which earns every club over £100million in TV revenues alone and more in sponsorship deals and merchandise sales, would almost certainly dry up if the 'Big Six' weren’t there.
Even if you collected the remaining clubs with large fan bases — Newcastle, Everton, Aston Villa, Leeds United — they couldn’t carry English football without the others. The narrative would also change. No longer would you be English champions in the true eyes of sport.
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And the same impact would be felt in Spain. Imagine La Liga without Real Madrid and Barcelona. Or Serie A without Juventus and the Milan clubs. It would be a farce.
Maybe a playoff system in England would prevent the big boys from quitting for good.
The Top Five leagues, as they like to be called, are consumed with their own interests, hampering the lesser leagues in Europe. But the clubs in the Top Five hold the real power, not the leagues themselves.
From 2018/19 the Premier League will have a guaranteed four clubs in the Champions League group stage. So will Italy, Spain and Germany. Expect the Champions League to revamp again and again to appease the bigger clubs with their financial muscle and their inward-looking agendas.
And in order to avoid a total breakaway league, there may come a time when the Premier League also introduce a playoff system, which would boost their TV revenues and add extra spice to what is already a fairly tasty top-six battle.
Denmark will look to Belgium's success with a playoff system and hope it can happen to them
Belgium experiment seems to have worked
Back in Denmark, clubs like Brondby and FC Copenhagen are getting their domestic house in order. But they won't like it if the Champions League carrot is taken away from them for good.
It will be interesting to see how the Danish experiment works. The Dutch already have a playoff system for relegation and for a European spot in order to drive interest and competition. The Belgians have something very similar to Denmark, having introduced the 'Championship Playoffs' in 2009.
It's hard to gauge how effective the changes have been on the Belgium national team as all their best players ply their club trade in bigger and better leagues. But Belgium are nine ranks higher than Denmark in the UEFA coefficient and the DBU no doubt see that progress as being down to the league structure changes.
So Denmark will push ahead with the Championship Round and hope it fuels further progress for their big clubs. One hopes that the Premier League is watching, because a playoff may soon be the only option to prevent the breakaway that would kill English football.