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Plans for ‘closed’ Champions League foiled by club opposition

Efforts from European football’s governing body Uefa and the continent’s elite clubs to reform the Champions League into a competition essentially reserved for the top teams have seemingly hit the buffers following a meeting of the European Club Association (ECA).

Uefa and ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli, who serves the same role at Italian Serie A club Juventus, had championed reformatting the Champions League as a semi-closed competition from the 2024-25 season onwards, arguing that this would create greater commercial certainty for smaller European clubs who have to qualify for the group stages every year.

The proposals included provision for promotion and relegation between Uefa’s three club competitions, cutting across the principle of qualification through domestic leagues. However, opposition from lower-ranking clubs has seemingly put paid to this plan, for now.

The Associated Press news agency, citing accounts of some of the small ECA-organised meetings throughout August, said the views of the smaller clubs have seemingly swayed the opinion of senior ECA leadership as it met for its general assembly in Geneva yesterday (Monday). “We have different views on formats and the stability principles,” Agnelli said. “There is an overall acceptance that reform must happen in 2024-25.”

The ECA will now reportedly seek to revamp its reform proposal, with no firm plan in place after what was described as a “vehement but constructive debate” with members by an ECA official. The developments from the ECA meeting come after it emerged last month that Uefa had postponed talks with European clubs and leagues to discuss the future of the Champions League and its other European club competitions, making any reforms to these competitions unlikely this year.

Uefa president Aleksander Čeferin was scheduled to meet with Agnelli and European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson for the talks tomorrow (Wednesday). On Friday, European Leagues, which represents football leagues from across the continent, presented what it called its own principles to contribute to reforming and improving European club competitions from 2024 onwards, with the protection of domestic leagues identified as one of three key elements.

The AP noted that certain other concepts have begun to be shared, amid the perception that the ECA’s vision was fading. Danish Superliga champion FC København has put forward a ‘Copenhagen Access Model’ that would increase the number of European games, but use Uefa competition performance over the past decade to decide the entry stage and ensure access is still dependent on domestic success.

The model keeps in place the three-tier system put forward by Uefa and the ECA, with 32 teams in the group stages of the Champions League and Europa League, in addition to 64 teams in a new third competition provisionally called Europa League 2.

Meanwhile, a ‘Swiss system’ would seek more substantial change to the competition format. The 32 Champions League group stage teams would be placed in a single division ranked by Uefa coefficient. They would each play eight to 14 matches, with fixtures determined by ranking position and the model meaning that each team was not guaranteed to play each other.

The AP said the top eight teams would qualify for the Round of 16, but also the group stage of the following season’s tournament. The remaining Round of 16 teams would be determined by a knockout round for those finishing nine to 24 in the earlier phase. The Round of 16 fixtures would also be based on final positions in the group stage.