Irish sides to be marginalised in shake-up of European cups

More Irish teams likely to end up in a third competition rather than Europa League

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

 

Most Irish clubs participating in European club competitions look set to be marginalised in a reorganisation from 2021, with the three Europa League places currently reserved for sides from the league here apparently being diverted instead to a new third competition provisionally entitled “UEL2”.

Some of the structures are a little unclear from Sunday night’s announcement but in what appears to be another victory for the Continent’s biggest clubs and bigger leagues, the provisional “access list” published by Uefa in the wake of its executive committee meeting in Dublin on Sunday suggests that the Europa League’s status as a fallback for club sides eliminated from the Champions League will be copper-fastened, while the vast majority of sides from lower-ranked countries will go into the new competition.

Under the new arrangements, each of the three club competitions will have league stages involving 32 teams, all divided up into eight groups of four. The position of domestic champions is arguably enhanced, with their chances of qualifying for the group stage of the Europa League improved.

To the margins

The move was hailed on Sunday by both Uefa and the ECA as a triumph for inclusivity, but in fact it looks like the latest move to shunt less wealthy, less successful and less “attractive” clubs to the margins of the European game while securing the status of the Champions League and making the group stages of the Europa League more marketable.

Games in the new competition will be played on Thursday with a new, earlier time slot of 4.30pm created to facilitate the number of matches to be squeezed in. It has previously been reported that the matches are likely to be streamed online rather than rights sold to traditional broadcasters. Prize money will be confirmed next year.

In the new competition the group winners will progress automatically to the last 16, but second-placed sides will have to face those that finished third in the Europa League groups in ties to decide the other eight places. It is, as ever, convoluted stuff, aimed at providing as many back doors as possible to bigger clubs. The reaction from the rest is bound to depend on the prize money offered.

“There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages,” insists Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin.

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