VIENNA: The Champions League will see an increase of four teams to 36 and the present group stage replaced by one single league from the 2024/25 season after UEFA’s Executive Committee approved the final format and access list for European club competitions.
The revamp of European football’s premier club competition will see each team play eight league games — four home and four away — as opposed to six in the group stage.
The top eight sides in the league will qualify automatically for the knockout stage, while the teams finishing in ninth to 24th place will compete in a two-legged play-off to secure their path to the last 16 of the competition.
“We are convinced that the format chosen strikes the right balance and that it will improve the competitive balance and generate solid revenues that can be distributed to clubs, leagues and into grassroots football across our continent,” said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.
Ceferin and UEFA will be hoping the reforms — passed unanimously by their executive board — will kill off once and for all any thought of the rebel Super League making a reappearance.
Twelve of Europe’s biggest clubs signed up to the proposed new competition last April but it collapsed within days following a fierce backlash from their own players and fans, as well as governments and football’s governing bodies.
Nine clubs distanced themselves from the project but Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus remain on board with the concept.
UEFA had stepped back after consulting with various parties — including supporters — from having 10 league matches and allocating two of the four new places to associations with the best collective performance by their clubs in the previous season.
UEFA also changed the criteria to qualify, removing access based on club coefficient, denying teams who did historically well a chance to qualify even if they did not finish in qualifying positions.
“The final two places will go to the associations with the best collective performance by their clubs in the previous season [total number of points obtained divided by the number of participating clubs],” UEFA said in a statement.
“Those two associations will earn one place for the club best ranked in the domestic league behind the UEFA Champions League positions.”
If the rule were applied this season, England and Netherlands would get an extra spot, meaning the team that finishes fifth in the Premier League would qualify along with the top four teams.
UEFA said one place will go to the “club ranked third in the championship of the association in fifth position in the UEFA national association ranking.”
Currently, France’s Ligue 1 are ranked fifth and only the top two teams qualify for the opening stage, with the third-placed team going through qualifying rounds.
The last spot will be awarded to another domestic champion in the ‘Champions Path’.
Similar format changes will also be applied to the UEFA Europa League (8 matches in the league stage) and UEFA Europa Conference League (6 matches in the league stage) and both will also include 36 teams in the league phase.
Ceferin revelled in the moment of succeeding in pushing through the reforms.
“I am really pleased that it was a unanimous decision of the UEFA Executive Committee, with the European Club Association, European Leagues and National Associations all agreeing with the proposal made,” said Ceferin.
“Another proof that European football is more united than ever. Qualification will thus remain purely based on sporting performance and the dream to participate will remain for all clubs.”
There will be 10 weeks set aside for European games from 2024, but only eight will be used for the three UEFA competitions, which will each gain a week of exclusivity to particularly help the Europa League and Europa Conference League garner more of the spotlight.
The current 32-team Champions League produces 96 games in the group stage. Dropping from 10 to eight games per team will make an extra 64 games rather than 100 before the round of 16. That would have an impact on UEFA’s predictions of revenue rising about 40% from the current 3.5 billion euros ($3.8 billion) annually from its club competitions.
The Champions League was created in 1992 from the European Cup, which started in 1955 and was a knockout tournament for most of its existence.
Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2022