Wanja Greuel, CEO of the Swiss outfit, played a pivotal role in the changes implemented by UEFA for the 2021-22 campaign
Manchester United will be hoping to go deep into this season’s Champions League competition, and there may come a point when they have their upcoming opponents to thank for helping them to progress.
The Red Devils are due to open their 2021-22 group-stage campaign against Young Boys on Tuesday, with the Swiss side having played a pivotal role in UEFA’s decision to abolish the away-goals rule.
No longer will teams playing at home in the knockout stages of European competition be stung with a double blow when seeing their defensive unit breached, with Wanja Greuel partly responsible for important changes being pushed through.
What has been said?
Greuel, who is CEO of Young Boys, told Goal and SPOX of his desire to do away with a divisive rule in continental tournaments: “I grew up in Kaiserslautern, so I was a big FCK fan and had a season ticket at the Betzenberg for 13 years. In November 1991, Lautern played Barcelona in the European Cup in the qualifying round for the group phase. The first leg at Camp Nou was lost 2-0.
“I was 14 years old when I was in the stadium for the second leg, it was a massive atmosphere and a sensational game. FCK led 3-0 until injury time, then Jose Mari Bakero scored to make it 3-1 and Lautern were eliminated – and in the same season Barca won the competition. It p*ssed me off that a team was knocked out even though the aggregate score was 3-3.
“That was my original experience, but I’ve always been annoyed by that rule afterwards as well. So many things are tried to be optimised in football, with goal-line technology, video evidence or calibrated lines, but if two teams score the same number of goals, one has to be eliminated. I always thought that was unfair. That’s why, as a youngster and student, I used to send letters to the editor to trade magazines, so that this huge injustice would finally be addressed. But no one ever did.
“I came to YB from Infront in 2015 and was appointed chief executive officer in September 2016. But the topic of the away-goals rule became more concrete in 2019, when I was elected to the ECA board. Then I raised the issue and put it on the agenda.
“The majority were also of the opinion that something had to be changed because it had been under discussion for some time. So I said: ‘Let’s move forward’ and made an official motion. That’s how the away-goals rule came on the agenda of UEFA’s Club Competition Committee and, from there, there was a recommendation to the Executive Committee, which finally abolished the rule officially at the end of June for the new season.
“I was at a virtual meeting of the Club Competition Committee where there was a big discussion with a lot of pro-abolition and very little against. One person who was not entirely convinced was Emilio Butragueno from Real Madrid. But in the end, there were only two or three votes against or abstentions from the 40 or so participants.
“The rule is simply no longer up to date. It was introduced in 1965, at a time when away matches were still expensive adventure trips, in stadiums and on poor grass pitches that were unfamiliar. And the previously customary deciding matches made the whole thing even more expensive. Today, that is no longer the case. So the injustice of eliminating a team that is not inferior but equal in points and goals should be abolished. And that one goal is simply worth more than another.
“The abolition of the rule benefits the quality of the game because attacking is rewarded. Because there was always an insane amount of tactics for fear of conceding a goal at home, most of the home teams no longer played primarily to win, but above all to avoid conceding a goal at home. And if you scored away from home, the opponent had to score three goals to make up for a 1-0 – and then all the tension was gone.
“I am absolutely convinced that the rule change makes football fairer and more attractive. In my eyes, the rule should have been abolished 10, if not 20 years ago. Of course, it would have been even better 30 years ago when Lautern played Barcelona, but you can’t have everything.”
Would change have happened without Greuel?
Greuel is reluctant to take full responsibility for forcing through tweaks to UEFA competition that have been a long time in the making, but he is happy to accept that he helped to accelerate that process.
Asked if changes would not have happened without him, the Young Boys executive added: “I wouldn’t say that, because the topic has been discussed for years, and many prominent coaches such as Arsene Wenger and Thomas Tuchel have already spoken out in favour of abolishing it. So I didn’t initiate it on my own. But I dare say that I set the ball rolling with my proposal. The rule would probably have fallen at some point without me, but not now.”
Young Boys, who have already come through two Champions League qualifying rounds and a play-off this season, are now readying themselves for a memorable meeting with Premier League giants Manchester United in Bern.
Greuel said of that occasion: “That is an absolute gift for our club. Already in 2018, the club’s first-time participation in the Champions League group stage was gigantic and this time, too, we have fantastic opponents. Especially the opening home match against Manchester United with Cristiano Ronaldo and all the other stars is a highlight in our club’s history.”