Czech football faces an uncertain future but one possible solution could be a merger that would transcend politics. Mark Smith reports.
The winter break is here, almost four whole months with no live football in the Czech Republic unless of course you are still in European competition, like Sparta Prague who still have to face CSKA Moscow next week. For the most part, if you play for a Czech team you’re probably already on your winter holidays.
It got me thinking about the strength and depth of Czech football. Sparta Prague were the only Czech team to make it through the qualifying/first rounds in European competition, and this was by default. Dumped out of the Champions League play-off round by MSK Zilina, Sparta fell into the Europa League group stages.
Jablonec, Plzen and Banik Ostrava failed to fly the flag for the Czechs in Europe. All three teams were humbled at the 3rd qualifying rounds – not even close to the group stages of the Europa League. Admittedly, Plzen had a tough tie with Besiktas but Ostrava were massive favourites to overcome Russian minnows Dnepr, but the Czechs lost home and away, sealing a 3-1 aggregate defeat.
Its clear that the Czech domestic league is really suffering in terms of quality, attendances are decreasing and it’s becoming harder for teams to keep their best players. Lack of revenue is a big problem, lack of quality sponsorship deals and decreasing attendances means the clubs are struggling to stay afloat.
The idea of the Czech and Slovak top division merging seems like a step in the right direction. Its been 17 years since the Czechs spilt from their Slovakian neighbours and talks of a reunion between the two associations have been promising.
The proposed merge would see an 18 team Premier League emerge (12 Czech teams, 6 Slovak teams). Two teams would be relegated each season, back to their respective national league, and two promoted from the same national leagues. The obvious advantage would be the increased revenue and competition for the 18 clubs, enabling them to strengthen and compete with the rest of Europe.
Slavia Prague lost young Czech talents like Tomas Necid and Marek Suchy to the Russian league, I’m not saying these players would still be at Slavia if there had been a Czechoslovak league in place but the increased competition can only been seen as a positive for both Czech and Slovak teams. The prestige of winning the title would mean more; imagine the fans of Slovan Bratislava lauding a title victory over Czech sides Sparta and Slavia Prague?
After initial reluctance from UEFA, it appears that they are coming round to the idea of the proposed merger. “UEFA President Michel Platini wants to take this opportunity to demonstrate that sports work differently from politics. While Czechoslovakia split, the league could be looking for a possible reunion," said the CMFS General Secretary Rudolf Repka.
UEFA have offered to put together a free study (FIFA take note) of the proposed merger, the Czech and Slovak association’s submitted data to UEFA on current attendances and revenue so an independent study can be carried out. CMFS General Secretary, Rudolf Repka added “It will come down to finances, but clubs will be given the chance to vote if they want that way or not”
The negatives would be that UEFA could take European places from the Czech and Slovak associations, leaving them with 4 places between. But, by judging by recent performances by Czech sides in Europe it wouldn’t be a big miss. There could also be some resistance from teams placed in the lower reaches of the current Gambrinus league, on the basis that they would be dropped into the lower National league and miss out on the lucrative merger.
If all goes well, the Czechoslovak league could be back in place for the 2012/13 season. I would welcome this with open arms, it can only been seen as a positive in my eyes. I just hope that Slavia Prague dig themselves out of their current plight and will be one of the top 12 sides in the Czech Republic in two years time!
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