UEFA must act to create level playing field

It is quite a fascinating aspect of the Milanese side’s run this far in the Champions League.

Milan were beaten earlier this season by Barcelona on the San Siro in a relatively meaningless match, where both sides were already guaranteed first and second respectively. Therefore it is intriguing that they have been playing with a pitch which appears so slippery, that players could slide if they try to turn too fast.

This isn’t a team though, who are spoilers. Milan can play good football, but they also play slow football, that is not so affected by a pitch on which slipping is quite easily with a quick turn. That is more the style of Barcelona, or Arsenal, uncoincidentally.

Of course, no one really knows if Milan have done this on purpose, or if it is pure chance. But it does seem convenient either way, that when they come up against teams who are technically proficient and fast, their pitch is so poor that playing that way is harder.

Against Arsenal, Milan won 4-0 of course, and though Arsene Wenger’s side were appalling anyway, they had legitimate cause for criticising the pitch. It may not have been the cause of defeat, but it could have exacerbated the size of the loss. The third goal they conceded came after Thomas Vermaelen slipped, giving Robinho the space to score. Without that goal, Arsenal may have won the tie after their second leg recovery.

Barcelona, in a much better position, should still progress to the next stage. They did though struggle to find their usual fluency against Milan, with their best players unable to find their top form on a pitch which seemed at times not to suit their play.

But the pitch raises legitimate concerns about gamesmanship in this particular area. The time has probably come for UEFA to demand of clubs a playing surface fitting of the occasion. All leagues should make it their interest that pitches are top quality. Teams facing technically superior opponents have long tried to make their pitch as difficult to play on as possible – it is anti-football, and cheats supporters who pay good money to watch the game.

A stand must be taken for the good of the game, and for its integrity. It is not good enough for such a sport to be played in such poor conditions. It should not be beyond top level clubs to provide a playing surface of a decent quality. The integrity of the competition suffers, if, to use the double entendre, there is no even playing surface. UEFA must act. This cannot be allowed to ruin games in the sport’s greatest club competition for much longer.