The reform of the Champions League, just another Super League?

Following the announcement and immediate failure of the Super League, UEFA has unveiled the new Champions League format which will come into effect from the 2024/2025 season. The new format is intended to appeal to both big and small clubs and to revitalise a competition that is losing its appeal.

What better way to revive a format that has run out of steam? More games! At least, that is what UEFA is proposing. To do so, it will change from a 32-team system to a 36-team system. As a result, the number of matches will also increase from 6 to 10 (!) in the « Swiss » format that replaces the group stages. As Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gündoğan has pointed out, the accumulation of matches is becoming a real frenzy and monumental physical prowess is expected from the players. The UEFA coefficient, which judges the level of the teams according to their past performances, will assign the participants according to their hat – for example, a team like FC Barcelona would be in hat 1 thanks to its good performances in the previous editions and the mini-leagues would be made up of three teams from hat 1, 2 and 3 and two from hat 4 – and for the rest of the adventure, the eight best performing teams will qualify for the knockout stage while the 16 teams between 9th and 24th place will play off against each other. This is a bit daunting. Even more so when you consider that the eventual winner will have potentially played 17 to 19 matches compared to 13 under the current format. From a competitive point of view, having about four more matches scheduled per team does not really make sense. More games mean more management by coaches and managers who do not want to lead their players’ body to the brink of destruction. This reform will be contested in the days to come without a doubt.

The president of UEFA Aleksander Čeferin ©AFP via Getty Images

The new format would favour the big European leagues – England, Germany, Spain, Italy – which could seed up to six teams based on their past performances. They would have four places allocated by the UEFA coefficient, one more place accessible by preliminary rounds and one last place by a possible victory in the Champions League/Europa League. These four championships assert their monopoly on the Champions League even further. Of course, it is easier to collect UEFA points for a nation when more teams from their league participate in the competition. However, this notion of a fundamental right to Champions League football is what football fans fought against when the Super League was announced. No club should have access to the competition on the basis that they have performed well in the past. This widens the gulf between these leagues and the rest of Europe, which does not have this privilege, as it is complicated to juggle the league and European competition and even more so for a club on the rise. Above all, the notion of « guest club » is controversial, with UEFA promising the two best-placed clubs in the UEFA coefficient to qualify for the competition if they have an off season in their domestic league (if Barcelona finish 5th in La Liga, they will still qualify on status and not on merit, thus protecting the big clubs).

Increasing revenue by increasing the number of matches means that nothing will change in the end, and this Super League is not the disease, but a symptom of a deeper malaise in football. The real winner is UEFA.

Erdem Ozgunay.

Cover photo ©UEFA

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