Breakaway clubs could be hit by changes to new Champions League format
Pressure to remove the proposal to award places based on historical performances
Uefa’s intention is to reserve two of the four new Champions League spots for “clubs with the highest club coefficient over the last five years” that have not qualified for the Champions League but have qualified for the Europa League or Europa Conference League. File photograph: Getty Images
The 12 clubs who instigated the breakaway European Super League are not expected to be directly punished by Uefa but could be hit by changes to the new Champions League format that would remove the proposal to award places based on historical performances.
Plans to introduce an expanded 36-team “Swiss-style system” from 2024 that would mean every club plays 10 league stage games against 10 opponents were approved by Uefa’s executive committee on Monday, less than 24 hours after the ESL had signalled its intention to launch a rival competition.
Yet after Chelsea and Manchester City’s withdrawal on Tuesday was swiftly followed by the majority of what Uefa’s president, Aleksander Ceferin, had described as “the dirty dozen”, European football’s governing body is coming under pressure from clubs not involved in the breakaway to reconsider its plan.
Its intention is to reserve two of the four new Champions League spots for “clubs with the highest club coefficient over the last five years” that have not qualified for the Champions League but have qualified for the Europa League or Europa Conference League.
That could mean almost guaranteed entry for a club from one of Europe’s top five leagues which has traditionally performed well in its domestic league but has failed to secure a spot after underperforming – a situation that could protect their status.
It is understood that although Uefa officials insisted on Wednesday there were no plans to change the format, there could be alterations before the end of the year that would see the extra places awarded to champions of smaller domestic leagues that might otherwise have to pre-qualify.
“Further decisions regarding matters such as the rebalancing of the access list, match dates, seeding system, format for the finals, coefficients and financial distribution will be made by the end of the year and potential adjustments to the format approved today could still be made if necessary,” read Uefa’s statement on announcing the new proposals on Monday.
The Juventus chairman, Andrea Agnelli, was a key player in drawing up the plans. He was head of the European Club Association before stepping down after the launch of the ESL. The 12 rebel clubs are no longer part of the ECA, which is expected to pressurise Uefa to remove the places based on coefficients, led by an executive committee that includes the Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi, Ajax chief executive Edwin van der Sar and his HJK Helsinki counterpart Aki Riihilahti.
Ceferin, having called the plan for the ESL “a spit in the face of all football lovers and society”, was in a conciliatory mood on Wednesday as more withdrawals emerged.
“It is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake,” he said in a hint there would be no punishment. “But they are back in the fold now and I know they have a lot to offer not just to our competitions but to the whole of the European game. The important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together.”
Despite the ESL’s collapse the divisions between Uefa and its leading clubs remain strong. Reacting to the new proposals for the Champions League, the Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman said the number of extra games would have a negative effect.
“It’s unbelievable what players need to play in the last few years in all competitions,” he said. “Everybody is talking about a Super League or a [NEW]Champions League or a different way of playing in Europe. Uefa is talking a lot, but it is not doing or listening to the football people, not the managers or the players, about the number of games. Most important for them is the money. Even in Spain, the number of games we need to play – tomorrow we play at 10pm – all of that is not always in a positive way for the players.” - Guardian