Platini likely to backtrack on Europa plans
Michel Platini, the Uefa president, is expected to emphasise this week there are no plans to scrap the Europa League, following reports that the competition could give way to an expanded Champions League involving 64 teams.
The questions over the future of the 56-club Europa League stem from some clubs’ perennial dissatisfactions with the competition’s status as secondary in quality, status and earnings to the Champions League.
Those complaints sharpen this week as the clubs eliminated from the Champions League contemplate Thursday nights in the Europa League, which some perceive as distracting from domestic leagues.
Platini, however, is preparing to explain that, when quoted by the French regional newspaper Ouest France last week, he was confirming only that Uefa keeps all its competitions under review for possible improvements.
There is no concrete discussion within Uefa’s committees entertaining the possibility of such a massive Champions League expansion or abolishing the Europa League.
Importantly the major European clubs, from whom any lobbying for change is taken seriously at Uefa, immediately rejected the reports last week. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chairman of Bayern Munich and of the European Club Association, left no room for doubt in his response.
“We are not in favour of the abolition of the Europa League and totally against the expansion of the Champions League,” Rummenigge said, on behalf of the 207 ECA member clubs which compete in the Uefa competitions.
Explaining the top clubs’ resistance to the suggestion that the Champions League be expanded, Rummenigge said: “We are not amenable to changing quantity at the expense of quality.”
The major clubs do not believe the playing quality, attraction to supporters or commercial allure of the competition would be improved by expanding it and they believe their own earnings and power would only be diluted.
Having reorganised its junior competitions in 2006 and, three years later, launched the Europa League and reduced the five-club group stage to four, Uefa is planning to develop the tournament rather than abolish it.
Chief among the changes being considered is for the winners, or even both finalists, to qualify for the following season’s Champions League. That degree of change, to invest the Europa League with more significance and give clubs a greater incentive to take it seriously, is, Uefa insiders say, most realistic.
Any changes can be incorporated only from the 2015 season, because the structure, sponsorships and television deals for both competitions have been agreed for the years between 2012-15.
The respective earnings from TV and sponsorship deals illustrate the degree to which the Europa League is the Champions League’s humble relation. In this 2012-13 season the Champions League’s gross commercial income is estimated at €1.34 billion. The Europa League, featuring 24 more clubs, earns an estimated €225 million.