WHAT. a. week. Apart from having to mute the phrases ‘Football, bloody hell’ and ‘Imagine not liking football’ from all social media, it’s been the most incredible and enjoyable period of watching the beautiful game since that Scotland double-header against Kazakhstan and San Marino.

From Vincent Kompany’s thunderbolt to Liverpool’s demolition of Barcelona, to Lucas Moura’s last-gasp winner and all the drama in-between, the past few days have shown that this sport of ours has the capacity to elevate, inspire, shock and entertain beyond the wildest of imaginations. It isn’t always like this, but when it’s good, it’s very good.

That same summation could be levelled at the Champions League, the tournament that played the biggest role in the remarkable events of the past few days. But just as this week has shown that those who sounded the death knell on the tournament’s appeal were wide of the mark, neither has this short burst of adrenaline indisputably brought it back to life either.

What has made the Champions League so exciting this season has been the unpredictability of it all, and perhaps no other club has played a bigger part in shaking up what had become a stale format than Ajax. Rather than the monotony of so-called big guns like Real Madrid and Juventus simply playing off for the trophy in what seemed like an endless loop, Erik ten Hag’s brilliant young side tore up the script, bodied both of those teams out of the tournament and came within seconds of a final. Even having Tottenham and the magnificent Mauricio Pochettino edge them out, coming as they have from the riches of the English Premier League, maintained the fresh look of the business end of the tournament.

It has been quite something to see four-time European Cup winners Ajax portrayed as plucky upstarts from some footballing backwater in parts of the media down south, even being described as ‘Dutch minnows’ by one English radio station. TalkSport? TalkS***e, more like.

But this is what UEFA have done to perceptions of huge historical footballing institutions with their ring-fencing of the riches that flow from the continent’s premier competition for those at the top of Europe’s big five leagues.

Presuming Ajax get over the line and win the Dutch League title after the heartbreak of what happened in the Johan Cruyff Arena on Wednesday night, they will have to navigate two qualifying rounds just to reach the group stages of next season’s competition, while the team who finishes fourth in Serie A, for example, will parachute straight in. It is an affront, and one that our own clubs here in Scotland are only too familiar with.

The grievance from the champions of Scotland at having to jump through these hoops in what is effectively their pre-season may be on slightly shakier ground than Ajax’s, given what they have just achieved in stark contrast to the recent record of our own teams in the competition, but their complaint is no less valid. Particularly when you factor in that Celtic, as Scottish champions, will have to negotiate four qualifying rounds just to get there this summer.

If UEFA want to catch the spark from what has happened this week to rekindle a tournament that was fast losing its lustre, it will heed the lessons of what has made it so joyously fresh and unpredictable.

Instead, alas, it looks as though they will take quite the opposite tack. If Scottish teams and their ilk from the smaller nations are currently the undesirables who are allowed in grudgingly and eyed with suspicion until they leave, they could very soon be standing outside with their noses pressed up against the windows of a closed shop for the mega-rich.

Proposals led by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli - who is also the chairman of the European Club Association, a body set up to represent the interests of clubs but which in reality, seems to serve the needs of the elite few – will be eyed with huge suspicion from the boardrooms of clubs like the Scottish champions.

There would be more teams involved as the group stages become a provisional pool of four leagues of eight teams, with promotion and relegation introduced too. But the places in these leagues would be by invitation only, not based upon where you finish in your domestic competition.

It is one thing to have teams finishing in fourth place getting a free pass to the ‘Champions’ League, but soon enough, the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, no longer good enough to even reach that relatively low bar, would soon vault it by deign of their wealth and size.

It is valuing cash over sporting merit, and every football fan who has been enthralled by the action of the last few days should pray that this doesn’t happen.

UEFA would do well to remember one of the key pillars of their ‘Equal Game’ mission is football for everyone. As Ajax have shown, it shouldn’t just be for the privileged few.


THE bare facts of Kris Doolan's time at Firhill will mark him out as a legend.

In his decade-long love affair with the Jags, the forward hit 120 goals in 401 games. There are only three men who have scored more in the entire history of the Firhill club.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and having seemed not to fit in with manager Gary Caldwell's plans, Doolan wasn't offered a contract extension and left the club yesterday.

The reaction of fans was overwhelmingly one of sorrow and indeed, anger, at Doolan's departure from the club.

One thing that is for certain, is that Doolan will rightly receive the adulation and plaudits he deserves from the support during this, his testimonial year. It may be a while before Firhill sees his likes again.