Looking back a year when the Super League was announced with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez at the helm of it, claiming it was created “to save football.” The fundamental principle behind it was European giants playing against each other often and playing more fixtures solely to generate more revenue.
The club’s owner’s greed got the better of them as each founder club would have received an initial sum of €3.5 billion to support their infrastructure investment plans and counterbalance the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic, amid severe backlash from players and fans all across the world the Super League failed within 48 hours of its formation.
A year later, UEFA has confirmed that they will switch to the Swiss Model in the Champions League from the 2024 season, expanding the competition from 32 to 36 teams.
UEFA has finally confirmed the new Champions League format with some amendments to the one they proposed on 19 April 2021.
We take a glance at what this means for the clubs competing, their players, their owners and most significantly, the fans. Also, does this move mark the end of the Super League?
The number of games played every year in the competition will rise from 125 to 189 from the 2024 season. The group stages will be replaced by a single league table comprising 36 teams. More noticeably, teams will play more games against different opposition, unlike in the traditional format where they played three teams in six games, three home and three away. Each team will contest in eight games over ten weeks in the Champions League.
After playing their allotted matches, teams in the top eight will directly qualify for the knockout games. Teams in the ninth position to 24th position will play each other in two-legged knockout matches to determine the remaining eight spots. Teams ranked from ninth to 16th position will be seeded, meaning they will play the second leg of the fixture at their home.
There are no changes made in the competition after reaching the last 16. The teams positioned from 25th to 36th will be directly dumped from the competition without being provided with any route in the UEFA Europa League or Conference League.
The two out of four extra places in the Champions League will go to countries whose teams have outperformed other teams last season. This means teams like Manchester City and Liverpool, who generally do well in Europe, will open a backdoor for their arch-rivals like Arsenal and Manchester United to play in Europe next season. Another spot would be awarded to the third-placed league team in the nation that stood fifth in their rankings. The last place will be awarded to the country’s domestic champions who qualify via the ‘Champions Path’.
Historically looking at the two new places awarded, more often than not, it has been English and Spanish teams that have performed best across Europe, which would mean an extra spot for teams from respective leagues. The European Cup started as a competition where only the champions would compete. We are at a point where finishing as low as fifth would get you into the Champions League from the 2024 season.
There is still no consideration for domestic champions from Poland, Croatia and other such leagues who still go through a qualifying round, and only one amongst them plays in the Champions League despite winning their league. Ironically, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said: “The dream to participate will remain for all clubs.”
UEFA has also expanded both the Europa League and the Conference League from 32 to 36 teams which eventually means almost every team that finishes in the top half of the Premier League will play in Europe.
This comes at a time when managers are crying out about fixture congestion and wanting to play fewer games. Unlike other domestic leagues across Europe, Premier League clubs do not have a winter break and play as many as eight fixtures in the month of December. Adding more games to this fixture list makes no sense.
UEFA has been forced to act by the owners of big clubs who want their teams to compete more and in more big games to generate more revenue, and that is precisely what we saw with a failed attempt to set up the European Super League.
Amid the chaos of the European Super League and UEFA planning to propose the new Champions League format last April, Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan said: “With all the Super League stuff going on, can we please also speak about the new Champions League format? More and more games, is no one thinking about us players? The new UCL format is just the lesser of the two evils compared to the Super League.”
Players have become puppets in the hands of the club owners, and it’s high time they speak about this with their employees, who have a never-ending urge to make more money, and the players will be put to the sword again if the need arises. This will eventually leave the players vulnerable to more and more injuries as they would have very little time to rest and recover, leading to shorter careers as a professional.
Footballing fans across the globe tore into the UEFA for their decision to introduce a new format in the competition which did not need one. Some passionate fans made their thoughts very clear on what they thought about the proposed change. They said: “Some countries like Scotland and others who do not even have an automatic qualification spot, and UEFA wants to give heavyweight countries more spots. This no longer feels like the Champions League and might be converted into the Super League with time due to the urge to make more money.” Amidst the chaos, one thing is very evident that this move by UEFA has been taken to fend off any more attempts to form a breakaway Super League by eventually fulfilling the demands of elite clubs with this new format which will see their clubs play an increased number of competitive fixtures generating more revenue.