Pressure from football fans across Europe forced UEFA to finally abandon plans to allow the continent’s wealthiest clubs to advance to the Champions League based on past performance.
UEFA initially proposed the idea of awarding two places in the prestigious competition to teams who finished outside the qualifying places in their domestic leagues, based on their success in European competition over the previous five seasons.
This could have meant that from 2024 a team would progress from the Europa League to the lucrative Champions League, without having won it competitively, and leapfrog their rivals in the process.
UEFA were forced to abandon some of the reforms proposed for the Champions League
The proposal, based on a club’s ranking or UEFA coefficient, has always been seen by fans, less well-off clubs and European leagues, as an attempt to appease the rich and powerful.
This would ‘reward underperforming elite teams’, it was claimed, consolidating even more power among already wealthy clubs.
UEFA today bowed to overwhelming opposition to the plan and scrapped it at a meeting of its executive committee, held in Vienna today.
Instead, English clubs could benefit from a fifth place in the Champions League based on European performance, with two spots to be awarded to clubs from countries that collectively performed best in Europe the previous season.
If applied to next season, it would mean England gaining an extra spot, as well as Holland.
Additionally, while Europe’s governing body has agreed to expand the competition from 32 to 36 teams from 2024, it will limit the number of matches in the new format’s group stage to eight, two more than currently played, but less than the 10 originally proposed.
Protected access for the wealthiest and most successful clubs has been a point of contention
Ahead of the meeting, the umbrella group, Football Supporters Europe, highlighted opposition to the plans, describing them as “fundamentally unfair and anti-competitive” and contrary to the “principles of sporting merit”.
The statement has been signed by 38 fan groups and representative bodies in 14 European countries.
Plans to reform UEFA’s competitions, including the Champions League, have been in the works for years and predate the European Super League, which rocked football in April 2021.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin came under pressure from European fans
The ESL, which was initially backed by 12 European clubs including England’s Big Six, attempted to create a closed store for the wealthier teams to lock in their current financial edge for years to come.
Plans collapsed almost immediately due to a backlash from supporters. Since then, there has been widespread concern about the “anti-competitive” elements of the Champions League reforms.
The Premier League were opposed to the coefficient places and the top-flight clubs that could have benefited from them did not push for it as the talks reached a fever pitch.
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish has been a constant critic. “If you asked just about every football club apart from the golden 20 who run the ECA, most people would tell you that UEFA are the biggest enemy of the domestic leagues that there is,” he said. he stated in March.
‘You have a completely opaque ExCo [executive committee]people from individual clubs have way too much say, way too much pressure.
“You have the ECA, which has 20 clubs deciding everything and you have a tournament in the new Champions League proposals that looks so much like the Super League that you can’t tell the difference.” In fact, in some ways they are worse.
The backlash surrounding the ‘closed’ Super League has only increased the pressure
The mighty European Club Association, which proved to be the incubator of the hated European Super League plan last year, has been a proponent of preferential Champions League access for wealthier clubs, the expansion of the competition and an increase in the number of group stage matches.
However, according to the Times, the ECA was forced to think again and considered alternative proposals at a meeting on Monday.
Despite concessions made by UEFA, fans are still unhappy with the structure of European football. Currently, clubs with a record of past success earn more money from European competitions than those that reach the same stage, but have a lower ranking.
Moreover, the enormous wealth that competitions generate for those involved has a detrimental impact on competition at the national level.
Revamped format could have given teams places based on historical performance
The result is a growing disparity in domestic competitions, with fewer clubs – or in some European leagues just one club – dominating each season.
“Working with the format of competitions does nothing to solve the structural problems facing European football,” Football Supporters Europe said.
“This will require a radical overhaul of UEFA’s revenue distribution model so that money is shared more evenly between participating and non-participating clubs.”
The supporters’ group called on UEFA to abandon all its reforms and “listen to the millions of fans who attend matches”.