Europe’s big clubs urged to put fans first ahead of Champions League reform

·4-min read

Europe’s big clubs were again urged to put fans first on Sunday ahead of a big week of talks on Champions League reform.

A proposal to allow two teams the safety net of a place in the new 36-team league phase of the tournament post-2024 based on their historic European performance has faced long-standing opposition from the continent’s domestic leagues and from supporters’ groups.

They argue that qualification should be solely based on domestic performance rather than coefficient ranking, with the leagues’ contention being that those two places should be awarded to countries whose league winners do not automatically qualify.

  • League phase of 36 teams replaces group phase, where 32 teams were split into eight groups of four.

  • Teams to play 10 matches on a seeded basis in a so-called 'Swiss system'.

  • Two of the 36 teams to qualify on coefficient ranking. The coefficient is determined by European performance over the past five seasons.

The European Club Association (ECA) supports the proposal to admit two teams based on the coefficient, and one of its vice-chairmen, Aki Riihilahti, said in March that he felt it was “fair” and that it “added value” to the competition.

Bayern Munich chief executive Oliver Kahn is also on the ECA executive board, but he heads into Monday afternoon’s board meeting in Madrid with his club’s supporters making fresh calls to abandon the coefficient spots.

Banners were displayed at Bayern’s Bundesliga match against Stuttgart warning “wild cards undermine the integrity of the competition”, and attacking the proposed increase in group phase games from six to 10.

A further banner stated: “Football for millions of fans, not billions of euro.”

UEFA’s executive committee is meeting in Vienna on Tuesday and there remains an expectation within European football’s governing body that the shape of the continent’s club competitions from 2024 onwards will be rubber-stamped then.

However, sources close to the talks have told the PA news agency that new, different options concerning qualification are being looked at, which may mean UEFA cannot present the final format by Tuesday.

Following the ECA board meeting in Madrid, there will be a meeting of UEFA’s club competitions committee on Tuesday morning ahead of the ExCo.

If no agreement is reached on Tuesday, one option might be to call a further ExCo meeting to coincide with this season’s Champions League final in Paris.

Certainly, the decision does need to be taken swiftly with marketing companies already in discussions over selling the rights. The rights are being sold as part of a joint venture between the ECA and UEFA, with the former’s chairman, Nasser Al Khelaifi, expecting a revenue jump of almost 40 per cent in the 2024-27 cycle compared to the 2021-24 one.

Revenue of five billion US dollars (£3.8bn) per season, up from 3.6bn US dollars (£2.7bn) per season in the current cycle, has been projected.

Europe’s domestic leagues remain confident UEFA will make the “wise decision” and drop the coefficient proposal and also change tack on the calendar too, and limit the increase in group phase matches to eight.

Claus Thomsen, the chairman of the management board of the umbrella group European Leagues, which includes the Premier League among its membership, said last month he thought “common ground” could be found with UEFA.

Last month UEFA endorsed a petition called ‘Win It On the Pitch’ set up by Football Supporters Europe, and its president Aleksander Ceferin has repeatedly lauded the role played by fans in sinking the Super League last year.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has praised the role of fans in sinking the Super League project
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has praised the role of fans in sinking the Super League project (John Walton/PA)

On April 19 last year – hours after 12 clubs announced the formation of the Super League – UEFA’s executive committee approved the new format for the Champions League to very little fanfare.

Within that was provision for two teams to qualify via coefficient, provided they had done enough to qualify for one of Europe’s other two club competitions.

Prior to that ExCo decision, the leagues argued that created the risk of teams ‘leapfrogging’ sides better placed in the domestic table into the Champions League. Since the Super League fiasco, the debate around Champions League format has reopened.

The latest proposal removed the threat of leapfrogging by only allowing teams to qualify via coefficient if they had finished directly outside the Champions League qualification spots, but it is still opposed by the leagues and fans’ groups.

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