Europe’s leading clubs and UEFA are close to agreeing a compromise on the controversial plan to give Champions League places to two teams that fail to qualify via their leagues but have strong European records.
If it was in place this season, the original proposal for the revamped Champions League that starts in the 2024/25 season would have given teams like Manchester United, Roma or Villarreal – all outside the qualification spots in their domestic leagues – a potential backdoor into the competition thanks to their UEFA club coefficient, a ranking based on performances in UEFA competitions over the previous five seasons.
But that plan has been strongly criticised by fans’ groups and the domestic leagues for diminishing the importance of the national competitions and entrenching the positions of Europe’s elite. Many in the game have also wondered why UEFA would give this concession to the richest clubs so soon after their attempt to form a breakaway European Super League failed last year.
In recent weeks, it seemed these sentiments had won the day, with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin changing his mind about the coefficient places but, as so often in football, when sporting principals meet economic realities, the latter usually has the last word.
In Madrid on Monday, senior representatives from UEFA attended a meeting of the European Club Association’s (ECA) board and heard various proposals for keeping diluted versions of the coefficient places.
The most popular of these options is one that would use UEFA’s country coefficient, not the club ranking, while cutting the number of seasons taken into account from five to one.
UEFA currently uses that coefficient for deciding how to allocate places in its competitions to its member associations. The top four countries get seven berths – four in the Champions League, two in the Europa League and one in the Europa Conference League – with the next two countries getting six spots, the next four earning five and so on down to San Marino in 55th place, which gets three. England has the highest coefficient at the moment, ahead of Spain, Italy and Germany.
Using the country coefficient — and reducing the historic timeframe from five years to one — is believed to be more in line with the principal that European football is a prize to be earned from season to season. It should also boost the prestige of the Europa League and the Europa Conference League, as performances in those competitions could make all the difference when the coefficient places are handed out.
It is also understood that the ECA has accepted that countries should be limited to a maximum of five spots in the Champions League, so it is now unlikely that all of the Premier League’s “big six” could qualify for the tournament in the same season. This will please the so-called “14” in England who have been angry about the idea of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham spectacularly failing to form a Super League one year but then getting almost everything they wanted a year later. The idea that any of these teams could leapfrog a West Ham, Leicester or anyone else and pinch their Champions League spot has been especially unpopular.
The compromise plan will be discussed at two further gatherings on Tuesday – scheduled meetings of UEFA’s club competitions committee and UEFA’s executive committee – before UEFA’s member associations gather in Vienna on Wednesday for their annual congress.
Ceferin would love to be able to announce that a deal for the post-2024 format of the Champions League has been finalised on Wednesday but the nature of these negotiations, which started in 2019, and his desire to find a consensus may mean he will have to wait a little longer, perhaps until the week of the Champions League final at the end of May.
(Photo: Alexander Hassenstein – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)