Pressure from football fans across Europe has forced UEFA to finally abandon plans to allow the continent’s richest clubs to access the Champions League based on past performance.
UEFA originally proposed the idea to hand two places in the prestigious competition to teams that finished outside of qualification spots in their domestic leagues, based on success in European competition during the previous five seasons.
It could have meant that from 2024, a team would be bumped up from the Europa League into the lucrative Champions League, without having earned it in competition, and leapfrogging rivals in the process.
UEFA has been forced to abandon some of the proposed reforms to the Champions League
The proposal, based on a club’s UEFA ranking or coefficient, has always been seen by fans, less well-off clubs and European Leagues, as an attempt to appease the rich and powerful.
It would ‘reward underperforming elite’ teams it was claimed, thereby consolidating even more power among already wealthy clubs.
Now, UEFA has bowed to overwhelming opposition to the plan and abandoned it at a meeting of its executive committee, held in Vienna, today.
Instead, English clubs could benefit from a fifth Champions League place based on European performance, with two places set to be awarded to clubs from the countries who collectively performed best in Europe in the previous season.
If applied to next season that would mean England gaining an extra spot, along with Holland. In fact, England would have benefited from an additional spot in four of the last five years, according to the football consultants, the Twenty First Group.
In addition, while the European governing body has agreed to expand the competition from 32 to 36 teams from 2024, it will restrict the number of matches in the group phase of the new format to eight, two more than currently played, but less than the 10 originally proposed.
Protected access for the richest and most successful clubs has been a point of controversy
Prior to the meeting, the umbrella group, Football Supporters Europe, underlined the opposition to the plans, describing them as ‘fundamentally unfair and anticompetitive’ and against the ‘principles of sporting merit’.
The statement was signed by 38 groups and fan representative bodies across 14 European countries.
Plans for the reform of the UEFA competitions, including the Champions League, have been in development for years and pre-date the European Super League, which rocked football in April 2021.
Aleksander Ceferin, the President of UEFA, has been under pressure from European fans
QUALIFICATION FOR THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
The four additional places created by the increase from 32 to 36 teams in the league phase of the UEFA Champions League 2024/25 will be allocated as follows, UEFA has announced:
-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 is ranked fifth].
-One place will be awarded to a domestic champion by extending from four to five the number of clubs qualifying via the so-called ‘Champions Path’.
-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). Those two associations will earn one place for the club best ranked in the domestic league behind the UEFA Champions League positions. For example, at the end of the current season the two associations adding one club to the Champions League, based on the collective performance of their clubs would be England and the Netherlands.
The ESL, which was initially supported by 12 European clubs, including the Big Six in England, tried to create a closed shop for the wealthiest teams to lock in their current financial advantage for years to come.
The plans collapsed almost immediately due to a backlash from supporters. Since then, there has been widespread concern over the ‘anticompetitive’ elements in the Champions League reforms.
The Premier League was opposed to the coefficient places and those top-flight clubs that may have benefited have not pushed for it as the discussions have come to a head.
Crystal Palace chairman, Steve Parish, has been a constant critic. ‘If you ask pretty much every football club outside of the gilded 20 that run the ECA, most people would tell you UEFA are the greatest enemy to domestic leagues that exists,’ he said in March.
‘You’ve got a completely opaque ExCo [executive committee]people from individual clubs with far too much say, far too much pressure.
‘You’ve got the ECA which is 20 clubs that decide everything and you’ve got a tournament in the new Champions League proposals that looks so much like the Super League you can’t tell the difference. In fact, in some regards, they’re worse.’
The backlash surrounding the ‘closed shop’ Super League has only ramped up pressure
The powerful European Club Association, which turned out to be the incubator of the hated European Super League plan last year, has been a supporter of preferential access to the Champions League for the richest clubs, expansion of the competition and an increase in the number of group stage matches.
However, according to The Times, the ECA was forced to think again and considered alternative proposals at a meeting on Monday.
Despite the concessions made by UEFA, there is still discontent among supporters over the structure of European football. Currently, clubs with a record of past success earn more money from European competitions than those who reach the same stage, but have a lower ranking.
In addition, the huge wealth the competitions generate for those involved has a damaging impact on competition at a national level.
The revamped format could have handed places to teams based on historical performances
The result is an increasing disparity in domestic competitions, with a smaller number of clubs – or in some European leagues just one club – dominating every season.
‘Tinkering with the format of the competitions does nothing to address the structural issues facing European football,’ said Football Supporters Europe.
‘Doing so will require a radical overhaul of UEFA’s revenue distribution model so that money is shared more equally between participating and non-participating clubs.’
The supporters’ group called on UEFA to drop all its reforms and ‘listen to millions of match-going fans’.
However, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, gave a robust defense of the plans.
‘UEFA has clearly shown that we are fully committed to respecting the fundamental values of sport and to defending the key principle of open competitions, with qualification based on sporting merit, fully in line with the values and solidarity-based European sports model,’ he said in a statement.
‘We are convinced that the chosen format 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 while increasing the appeal and popularity of our club competitions. ‘