CCL changes are a reflection of Victor Montagliani's political savvy. Is that a good thing?
The most powerful Canadian sports leader of all-time isn’t a hockey executive, or anyone that was overly involved in sports management here, in Canada.
No, it’s pretty clear that the man who was the most powerful at the peak of his power was former IOC Vice President and former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Dick Pound.
For many years there was a feeling that Pound would eventually climb all the way up to the top of the ladder to become the president of the IOC.
Pound did, in fact, run for IOC president in 2001. His platform was noble. Pound became the voice of the anti-corruption ticket at the IOC, rallying against the type of vote buying that had resulted in the Salt Lake Olympics corruption scandal.
The thing about our Dick though is that for all of his righteous conviction, he lacked diplomacy.
Pound wasn’t liked by many of the people that he needed the support of to get to the position that he wanted. So much so that he lost that presidential election badly, finishing third. That was behind Korean Kim Un-Yong, a man who was implemented in the very scandal the Pound was holding up as the reason the IOC needed to be reformed.
The man who might one day surpass Pound as the most powerful sports executive ever, Victor Montagliani, does not suffer the same failure of personality. No, the current Concacaf President and FIFA Vice President Montagliani is a political genius that has consistently found ways to appease vastly different voting blocks to solidify his power in the region.
It’s also why I think he will one day take a run at the FIFA presidency. And, may well win it.
That’s something to ponder, but today I bring it up in the context to the changes that were announced in the Concacaf Champions League, starting in 2023.
You can read the full breakdown of those changes here, but the tl;dr is that the competition will be technically grown, while actually being shrunk. That’s right, more teams will play, but there will be fewer teams outside of LigaMX and MLS that will be involved in the business end of the tournament.
It’s very likely that there will be 10 MLS teams in the competition. They will be joined by eight LigaMX (and two noble minnows from CanPL) in a regional qualifying tournament that will eliminate nine teams. The 11 qualifiers will advance to the round of 16 of the CCL proper, where 4 Central American teams and one Caribbean team will be thrown a bone. That’s two fewer teams in the final 16 than the non-MLS/LigaMX teams have now.
Since there will very likely be more than the current four Mexican teams in the round of 16 - in fact, there could be eight - the chances of this tournament being an all-Mexican affair for the foreseeable future is very real.
The format, which sees four groups of five in the qualifying stage will also feature plenty of inter-league games and, most troubling for the quality of play, will almost certainly have plenty of dead rubber games. The reaction today to the change was mostly positive, but I’m not sure people are really thinking it through. Everything that is fun about the current CCL is lost with this and all we gain is more MLS v LigaMX match-ups.
Which is, of course, the point and why Montagliani is putting this forward. It’s to solidify his support in the rich, northern part of the confederation.
There, MLS and LigaMX have been pushing back against any effort to give more spots to teams outside of those two leagues for years now. It’s why Concacaf moved from the old group stage/knock-out format it originally started with when it created the CCL from the ashes of the CCC.
MLS teams simply don’t want to play Saprissa et al. and LigaMX teams barely want to play MLS teams, let alone go into Central America. But, they do like those American Greenbacks, so they’ll play along with MLS’ desire to turn everything into a US v Mexico, Dos a Cero thing.
To that end, they have been making noise about forming their own competition. If successful, that competition would essentially make the CCL pointless. So, Montagliani got to work and found a way to basically give LigaMX and MLS what it wanted (while smartly throwing a bone to Canada too by giving the CanPL two spots to play with the big boys, however ugly that might look initially) and keeping the CCL branding on it (and likely spreading the sponsorship money to the Central American federations to keep them happy too).
The Caribbean was already taken care of with the Nations League he created. As stated, Montagliani is a political genius. His hold on Concacaf is stronger than ever.
Whether the political solutions he’s come up with are best for the region remains to be seen. The Nations League is likely a net positive, for sure, but if not for COVID-19 we would be in the middle of what was likely the dumbest World Cup Qualifying Format ever devised right now.
That, like this CCL format, was designed to benefit the big countries while hoping to appease the smaller ones with some crumbs along the way.
That type of manoeuvring is great for Montagliani, but the benefit it will provide club teams not in MLS or LigaMX is less clear.