I am glad to see my musings on the Atlantic League generated a bit of discussion and some good points were raised in the comments.
Our man Shiner nailed a lot of the concept – the Atlantic League is not a replacement for or challenger to the Champions League; however it is a replacement for the national leagues for those teams that participate. So Hibs could travel to Dundee on a Saturday afternoon to take on United, while Rangers are visiting Brussels to play Anderlecht.
Promotion into and relegation out of the AL are absolutely key for me – and I don’t agree with country quotas (would you agree with regional quotas in a national league?). Place any artificial constraints on entry to the league and you end up with a situation like the SPL in its early years – good teams not getting in because their grounds didn’t have the right number of seats halfway through the previous season, and then rules being made up as we go along (remember Caley Thistle playing at Pittodrie?). So if the AL has 16 teams (seems like a decent number), I would propose the bottom two get relegated and third bottom goes into a playoff with the champions of each of the feeding national leagues.
I think I would still want to include the Scandis in this league unless they feel like forming their own Scandi+Finland superleague, so there would be an end-of-season playoff with the champions from Scotland, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, with the third-bottom team as well. 8 teams, so two knockout rounds – single-elimination, not home/away – and a third/fourth playoff to determine three teams to replace the three dropping out. These could be hosted over a long weekend in a different country each season e.g. one year it’s Gothenburg/Stockholm, next year it’s Porto/Lisbon, so it could be an enjoyable end-of-season tournament as well.
This does bring up one of the thornier questions… if the Scandis are included, do we have to play summer football? This is an interesting one as it does open up different possibilities. You could go for summer football, say March-November, but that would mean teams playing in later rounds of European competition in February during their pre-season. Or you could have winter football with a break from late December to early February, and schedule the northern teams away from home in the deeper months of winter. Or, you could have summer football with a break in June for international tournaments, making the season Feb->May and July->November.
Excluding the Scandinavians is definitely easier but on balance I’d stick with the regular winter schedule with a decent winter break and a summer break when the WC or EC is on; but to be honest I’d need to research the pros and cons of each option before forming a strong view. I don’t fancy Scottish teams’ chances away to Benfica in July although it might encourage the supporter WAGs to travel to some away games (which itself could be seen as a bad thing).
A couple more advantages I see to this model.
First, as the model is agnostic towards which countries’ teams are in the AL, there’s no reason it couldn’t expand to include (e.g.) the Baltic nations or Ireland. So it can naturally flex to incorporate strong emerging teams – say if Dublin ever gets its act together and Shelbourne becomes a contender, there is a merit-based way for them to break in.
Secondly, as certain leagues get stronger and others weaker, the AL itself would flex the proportion of teams so it would remain as representative of the strongest teams from its member countries. So if Belgian football falls off a cliff and Hibs and Dundee United continue to improve, Scotland might have four teams and Belgium could end up with just one or none (yes, I have been taking my happy pills).
So, in summary, we have a proposal for a league which forms the top-level of a Pyramid system of smaller national leagues; which allows meritocratic entry for emerging strong teams; and which provides a model that can be copied across other regions of Europe with similar challenges.
I recognise that I haven’t exactly provided a blueprint, and that the issue of summer/winter football is a tricky one, but I still see it as a good model for everyone – not just the Old Firm.