World football is yet to recover from the topsy-turvy last two days and while each and everyone was busy protesting against the European Super League; UEFA officially announced the changes in the format of the Champions League which would be active from the 2024-25 season.
The number of teams
On April 19, 2021 – after the executive meeting of the UEFA decided to say goodbye to the 32-team format competition and increase it to 36.
The present Champions League season begins with the teams divided into eight groups of four. From the 2024-25 season, there will be a single league made up of all 36 competing clubs and which would give four more sides the opportunity to compete against the best clubs in Europe.
How will the format work?
In the new format – the teams will play four matches more than is currently the case. They will no longer play three opponents twice – home and away – but will instead face fixtures against 10 different teams, half of them at home and half of them away.
This gives the opportunity for the clubs to test themselves against a wider range of opponents – and also raises the prospect of fans seeing the top teams go head to head more often earlier in the competition and the new format demands more competitive matches until the final.
Selection of the additional four teams
According to UEFA Official website:
Qualification for the Champions League will continue to be open and depend on a club’s final position in the previous season’s domestic league competition. The additional four slots available in 2024-25 will be allocated according to three different criteria:
Slot one: awarded to a club from the country placed fifth in UEFA’s national association coefficient rankings. Each association’s coefficient is based on the results of its clubs’ performances in five previous Champions League and Europa League seasons.
Slot two: awarded to the domestic league champion with the highest club coefficient among all other domestic champions that have not automatically qualified for the Champions League’s league stage.
Slots three and four: awarded to the two clubs with the highest club coefficients that have not qualified automatically for the Champions League’s league stage, but have qualified either for the Champions League qualification phase or the Europa League/the Europa Conference League (due to start in the 2021-22 season).
The Round of 16
According to the UEFA Website:
The results of each match will decide the overall ranking in the new league, with three points for a win and one for a draw still applying.
While the top eight teams will advance automatically to the round of 16, those sides placed between ninth and 24th will enter a play-off round. Those who finished between ninth and 16th will be seeded in the play-off draw, meaning they will face a team placed 17th to 24th – with home advantage in the second-leg match. Teams who finish 25th or lower will be eliminated, with no access to the UEFA Europa League.
The eight clubs who prevail in the playoffs will then progress to the round of 16 where they will each face one of the top-eight finishers.
There will be no Group Stages
The biggest alteration is that the group stage will essentially be axed, replaced with a single league stage that includes all participating teams.
The matches will also be played on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
These changes will also be made for the Europa League (eight matches in the initial league stage), as well as the new Europa Conference League set to begin its inaugural season later in 2021 (six matches in the league stage).
These two lower-division competitions will also be expanded to 36 teams in each league stage.
Former Bayern Munich and Liverpool defender Markus Babbel have said that UEFA must be “laughing its head off”, stating that Europe’s governing body is just as interested in making money as those involved in the failed Super League plans.
Babbel told Goal and SPOX, “The 2024 Champions League is also sh*t to the power of 10. Nobody can take that seriously either because it’s all about more games and more money.”
“From my point of view, the reforms are a disaster, but at least the teams still have a chance to qualify based on sporting merit.”
Back on April 16, Bayern Munich fans have joined supporters of clubs across Europe in drafting an open letter of condemnation to the European Club Association and its chairman Andrea Agnelli over the latest proposal for the rules and setup of the UEFA Champions League. They were joined by supporters from Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Ajax, Anderlecht, Atletico Madrid, Benfica, Borussia Dortmund, FC Copenhagen, Fenerbache, Young Boys, and Lyon.
In the open letter they said:
Your plans to restructure the Champions League by increasing the number of games, introducing qualification based on past achievements, and monopolising commercial rights present a serious threat to the entire game,’ said the joint letter, which has been coordinated by Football Supporters Europe, a coalition of fan groups across the continent.
You will only make the gap between the rich and the rest bigger, wreck domestic calendars, and expect fans to sacrifice yet more time and money.
According to Mirror UK, “So effectively clubs with good recent European histories will be given a safety net to get into the Champions League, even if they don’t finish in the qualifying positions.”
“Liverpool, for example, would get in if these reforms were in place for next season but they still only finish sixth or seventh this season.”
“The ‘Big Six’ English clubs look to be in a strong position to benefit from this ruling given the fact that, as it stands, at least two of them will miss out on the Champions League every season.”
“They are likely to face competition from clubs in Italy, Germany and Spain for extra spots, but they will surely see their introduction as a Champions League backup plan, as even in their poorer seasons they would fancy their chances of finishing in the top seven.”
Popular Bayern Munich blogging site Bavarian Football Works posted:
“Where the controversy, and arguably the biggest negative in this, comes in is how the extra four qualifying spots will be awarded.”
“The first will go to Ligue 1, which will have their number of automatic bids increase from three to four, to match their status with the likes of the Premier League, the Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga.”
“The second spot will go to a team that performed well in a past tournament that would normally need to go through the first qualifying stage of games to make the Group Stages. The most recent example of this would be the Ajax team who made the semi finals of the 2018-19 Champions League. The Eredivisie, along with leagues like the Scottish Premiership and the Swedish Allskvensan, do not have automatic qualifying spots. Instead, teams need to play through two qualifying rounds having two legs each in order to make the Group Stages.”
“But the most controversial part of qualifying lies in the last two spots. Under the new system, UEFA will give spots to the two teams with the best club coefficient ranking who did not qualify for the Champions League outright but managed to finish between 5th and 7th in their domestic leagues. The club coefficient is a FIFA metric used to determine how good a club is based on their past performances in Europe.”
“This provides a safety net to the major clubs instead of giving automatic spots to smaller clubs who actually won their domestic leagues. Using the 2019-20 season as an example, those spots would have gone to Tottenham Hostpur — who finished 6th in the Premier League — and SSC Napoli — who finished 7th in Serie A.”
“Moreover, the final spots are not league restricted, meaning it’s entirely possible that any of the top five leagues in Europe could send six teams to the tournament.”
“In addition, under the new system, the top five leagues are only allowed seven European spots in total. Using the Bundesliga as an example, if Bayer Leverkusen — a team with a high club coefficient — finished 6th but was called up to the Champions League, then only one team would be sent to the Europa League from Germany. If that team finished 7th, then it’s highly likely that no team from Germany would compete in the UEFA Europa Conference League.”
The Pros and Cons
According to Bavarian Football Works:
“The two bodies that will benefit the most from this are the existing national leagues and the teams that are lowest on the proverbial totem pole.”
“By setting up this format, it gives incentive for the major European teams to stay in their respective national leagues as this seems very similar to what was proposed in the European Super League. With the top clubs getting more opportunities to play each other, the demand for a mass exodus from the top leagues on the continent will die down.”
“On the flip side, smaller teams that qualify will be able to play more games which increase their earning potential. The current format eliminates half of the 32 teams after they’ve only played six games. By adding four more games plus the playoff structure, it will only send 12 teams home early.”
“However, this also has the potential to increase the number of games down the line. European soccer has one of the shortest off-seasons in world sports and an increase in games can lead to more injuries and longer seasons. This format could see match increases on a much larger scale in the years to come, adding to an already congested football calendar.”
“That last point is what fans are protesting. By increasing the number of matches and disproportionally favoring bigger leagues and clubs, fans argue they will only increase the wealth inequality between “rich” and “poor” teams.
“It doesn’t help either that the ECA reportedly wants to gain more control of the distribution rights to the money earned in the Champions League from UEFA, naturally benefiting their larger members.”
“With money being the driving force in world football, it’s hard to see this plan being rejected. As the importance of the Champions League rises, the domestic leagues are more likely to hurt the most from it.”
“This almost seems like a discount version of the European Super League, and we could still see that vision become a reality. If the power given to the top clubs and the ECA explodes until we reach that point, we can point to this moment as the match that lit the fuse.”