Following an Executive Committee meeting in Vienna on Tuesday, the president of European football's governing body UEFA, Alexander Ceferin, announced what was described as the "final format" for its club competitions starting in the 2024-25 season.
The UEFA statement confirmed that the most highly anticipated changes apply to football's most prestigious club competition, the Champions League, as part of plans agreed a year ago after many of Europe's richest clubs unveiled plans to launch a new "Super League." UEFA said that its officials, clubs and league representatives had settled on a scaled-back first phase of the Champions League and a curb on how a team could qualify based on past performances.
This final provision had been the main bone of contention with last year's proposed changes. It would have seen two places awarded to teams with the strongest five-season record in Europe who had failed to qualify through their domestic leagues. "Qualification will thus remain purely based on sporting performance and the dream to participate will remain for all clubs," he said.
More teams, single table
Under the new plan, the number of teams qualifying for the first phase of the Champions League will still grow from 32 to 36 teams, as agreed a year ago, but the number of group stage matches played will only jump from six to eight per team, rather than 10 as had been proposed.
Instead of a first phase made up of eight groups of four (as the competition is now), there will be a single table, with the top eight teams after the first eight rounds (four home games, four away) advancing to the round of 16. The teams placed between ninth and 24th are to go into a playoff to advance to the last 16.
The distribution of the other two expansion places is to see an additional team qualify from the fifth-ranked country in Europe, usually France, as well as a fifth slot for domestic champions who fail to qualify automatically.
Ceferin said Tuesday's agreement had followed "an extensive consultation process" involving "fans, players, coaches, national associations, clubs and leagues" aimed at finding the best-possible solution for "the development and success of European football, both domestically and on the international club stage."
Berlin to host Euro 2024 final
Also on Tuesday, the Executive Committee revealed the schedule and venues for the 2024 European Championships, which will be hosted by Germany. Similar to the 2006 World Cup, which was also hosted in the country, Berlin's Olympiastadion has been awarded the final, while the Allianz Arena in Munich is to stage the opening match. Talks continue in Vienna on Wednesday with the opening of 46th Ordinary UEFA Congress.
Edited by: Matt Pearson
Author Chuck Penfold
Permalink - https://p.dw.com/p/4B5et
Opinion: UEFA ushers in Super League by stealth
In passing men's Champions League "reforms," football’s so-called protectors have let the game down, says Matt Pearson. The big clubs are once again getting what they want. In football, it seems that greed is god.
Remember the European Super League? That bright idea to have the self-selected top teams in football pass money round endlessly and shut the door behind them?
Thankfully, it burned out within a few days after fans, players and even European football's overlords UEFA balked at its greed. "Nobody wants it except the few who think that football is all about money," UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche shortly after the proposal collapsed last April.
Just over a year later, all of the rebel clubs (except Tottenham Hotspur) sit in the top four of their respective leagues. None have been punished in any meaningful way and Ceferin has waved through a series of format changes for the men's Champions League that gives them what they want: more lucrative matches in Europe and a back door to qualification if they have a bad season.
The rich get richer
As ever, the spin is of inclusivity and sporting integrity. "We are fully committed to respecting the fundamental values of sport and to defending the key principle of open competitions," blustered Ceferin. But of the four added places from 2024-25, one will go to national champions while the other three will go, in almost all cases, to a club from a major (rich) league.
Ceferin’s moral posturing is now further undermined by his own competition. Since replacing the European Cup (which actually did consist wholly of national champions) in 1992, UEFA’s top club competition has consistently sought to make it harder for the richest clubs to fail, financially or on the pitch. The safety net of Europa League football for teams failing in the group stages, four teams qualifying from major leagues and the uneven distribution of broadcast money are among the major bugbears.
Adding an extra spot for the league fifth in the UEFA coefficient rankings and two for the associations with the best-performing clubs in Europe in particular is a closed circle. The Premier League, for example, would be one of those leagues were the reforms to come in to play now. Given its vast resources, it’s likely to remain so, effectively granting five places to a league that welcomes Saudi, UAE and, until recently, Russian takeovers if the price is right.
Soon, one of the so-called "big six" who fail by today's standards will likely get a second bite of the cherry, rake in the Champions League cash and continue to widen the gap between them and the rest. Remind you of anything?
More is less
That UEFA has climbed down slightly on the proposals aired last year (two extra group stage games not four, no extra places based purely on coefficient) looks, at first glance, to their credit. But in reality is likely a calculated move to make it appear they've listened to voices not consumed by money, glamor and status. No doubt there will be more reforms along soon.
The Champions League has contributed plenty to the inequity of European football in the last 30 years but it’s also provided some incredible games, Real Madrid’s pickpocketing of Manchester City the most recent example. Fewer games means less jeopardy, a fundamental part of sport's appeal.
What Ceferin and co. don't seem to understand is that scarcity is also part of the competition’s pull. More games does not mean better football, but it does mean more money. These reforms are a concession to a league that UEFA pretended to be appalled by. Yet again, the Super League clubs have won.
Edited by: Jonathan Harding
Author Matt Pearson
Permalink - https://p.dw.com/p/4B7Te
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