Leaked documents indicate Uefa is considering proposals to restructure the Champions League as a semi-closed competition from 2024 onwards.
The documents, which emerged after a meeting between the governing body and European Leagues earlier this week, propose that 24 of the 32 teams taking part in the group stages of the reformatted competition would retain their places the next year, regardless of their standings in their domestic leagues.
The proposals, revealed by both the New York Times and the Associated Press, would appear to guarantee more lucrative matches for the biggest clubs and make it more difficult for clubs further down the football pyramid to qualify for the competition.
Teams would compete in four groups of eight with the leading four clubs in each group qualifying for the round of sixteen knockout stages under the plans. This would guarantee 14 Champions League games per team rather than the current six thereby generating more revenues for the competing clubs. Teams that made it to the final would be expected to play a total of 21 games.
Controversially, just four clubs would be relegated each season into the second-tier Europa League and the four semi-finalists in the Europa League would be promoted to replace them, according to the document.
Only four qualification places would be left open to national champions competing in the preliminary rounds of the competition – a decrease on the current six.
The plans also include provisions for promotion and relegation between the Europa League and Uefa’s third-tier club competition – currently called Europa League 2 – which launches in the 2021-22 season. While this competition is scheduled to kick off with a 32-team format, this would be increased to 64 teams under the proposals.
Promotion and relegation between the three European competitions would cut across the principle of clubs qualifying for the Champions League through their national leagues and will likely set Uefa on a collision course with European Leagues, the body which represents domestic leagues across Europe.
On Monday and Tuesday this week European Leagues organised a meeting with these clubs to try to prepare a joint position on key issues ahead of a meeting on Wednesday with Uefa where the governing body was expected to reveal its plans for club competitions post-2024. The leaked document is thought to have emerged from the second meeting.
European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli is known to be in favour of an expanded Champions League and is thought to be an advocate of promotion and relegation between European competitions.
At a press conference following the ECA general assembly in March, Agnelli, who is also the chairman of Serie A club Juventus, said: “It [promotion and relegation] is something that is natural within the football environment. In the coming months we will discuss if that, and to what extent, can be increased within Europe. But it’s certainly something that is logical to an open system. It’s logical in every country, it might be logical internationally.”
Some of the biggest clubs from the European continent are also thought to be calling for more European games to close the gap on clubs in the English Premier League and the feeling is they have repeatedly used the threat of a breakaway European Super League to extract greater concessions from Uefa.
Last November German publication Der Speigel said it had seen a “binding term sheet” for a 16-team Super League. The semi-closed structure of the competition was explicitly based on Euroleague Basketball’s top-tier EuroLeague, which is not entirely closed to try to avoid violating European competition law.
Uefa said it would not comment on its plans until briefing its member federations on May 17 in Budapest.
Earlier this week, Uefa president Aleksander Čeferin said reports regarding the future make-up of European football’s elite club competitions would be speculative while discussions with stakeholders are ongoing. The governing body has added that it will not comment any further on its plans until briefing its member federations on May 17 in Budapest.