Fears Champions League revamp could limit access but Uefa insists 'no decisions' yet
A proposal for the restructuring of the Uefa Champions League, European soccer’s top clubs competition, would entail three-quarters of the teams qualifying automatically regardless of their positions in domestic leagues, it has been reported.
Uefa is presently exploring a revamp of the European club competitions in 2024 onwards, with some of the continents top clubs apparently supporting a model that would guarantee them places in the Champions League, but facing resistance from national leagues.
Documents seen by AP and the New York Times show that one proposed format would see 24 of the 32 competing teams qualify automatically for the elite competition, with the other eight comprising four semi-finalists from the previous season’s Europa League and just four national league champions.
The draft plan indicates that four teams would be relegated from the Champions League to the Europa League each season.
At present, clubs qualify for the Champions League by dint of where they finish in their domestic leagues, with the top nations of England, Spain, Germany, Italy guaranteed four places each.
However, the European Club Association, headed up by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, is thought to favour a more closed system which would guarantee more matches between the continent’s top teams.
The European Leagues body, for its part, fears that this would have a detrimental effect on national leagues, notably on the calendar and competitive balance.
There are also concerns that appealing storylines such as the progress of Dutch club Ajax from the qualifying rounds to the semi-finals of this year’s Champions League would not be possible in future.
Representatives from European Leagues met with Uefa on Wednesday, and the latter’s president Aleksander Ceferin (pictured) stressed afterwards that there would be extensive consultation before any restructuring of the Champions League takes place, and that smaller clubs would not be left out of pocket.
The plans are set to be laid out to Uefa’s 55 national associations at a meeting in Budapest next Friday.
Uefa and the ECA have previously looked to play down concerns over a closed Champions League and the prospect of matches taking place at weekends, currently the preserve of national leagues.
In a statement after this week’s meeting, Ceferin said: “When the Champions League was last changed in 2016, UEFA was criticised for not holding discussions with its stakeholders. When I became President shortly afterwards, I insisted that any future changes should be subject to consultation and today's meeting is further evidence of that.
"What is important to remember is that, despite a lot of talk in the media, no decisions have been made. At the moment we have only ideas and opinions. It is also important to recognise that UEFA is the only body that has responsibility to the game across Europe. UEFA competitions are the only source of redistribution between big and small countries in a landscape that is polarising, with solidarity payments of €240m from the Champions League being made to clubs right across our 55 member associations. We will use this process to design our competitions to protect and develop European football.
"Other organisations have very different constituencies and interests to protect. Our aim is to find a solution that reflects the changes in the game, preserves the position of UEFA's competitions as the most attractive and exciting in the world, while providing significant solidarity funding across European football. We will not be deflected from that task and we remain committed to continue dialogue with our stakeholders, the next meeting of which will be with our national associations.”
Speaking at a Lega Serie A assembly in Milan yesterday, Agnelli insisted that any revamp of the Champions League would not undermine the national leagues, saying: “I don’t forget to be Italian. I have no intention of weakening Serie A. My goal is to get the best for everyone.”
However, Luigi de Siervo, the chief executive of the Italian league, is awaiting clarity, and believes qualification for the Champions League should still be through the national leagues.
He said: “The project has been drawn up and there are just some details missing. There are some important details to be decided, such as the number of teams per country. For the 2024-27 cycle, weekends will be dedicated to domestic leagues."
De Siervo added: "Our league's wish is that the criteria of sporting merit does not exist just within the competition but should as much as possible be linked to the national championships.”