UEFA prepare for Champions League battle as Super League proposal lurks in wings

Champions League graphic

By Paul Nicholson

August 17 – The UEFA Champions League and its associated Europa League club competition now looks certain to change its qualification format to head off the threat of a Super League breakaway by leading clubs.

“UEFA has held several meetings with all key stakeholders over the last few months to discuss the future of UEFA club competitions and listen to the feedback of all of those involved.” said a UEFA statement.

“The feedback from the consultation process, together with proposals for a way forward, will be submitted shortly to the clubs, no later than the ECA General Assembly in Geneva, 5/6 September 2016.”

The most likely new format proposed after months of talks between UEFA and the clubs is for the automatic qualification of the top four clubs from Europe’s big four leagues to the Champions League group stages. The news was first reported by Gabriel Marcotti for ESPN.

This would mean 16 out of 32 clubs at the group stage being automatically qualified.  Currently the top three leagues (a ranking calculated using UEFA’s club coefficient) get three guaranteed spots in the group stage plus one entry into the playoffs. The fourth European league gets two group spots, plus one playoff slot.

It is understood that the big clubs, via the European Club Association (ECA), are in general agreement with this proposal. For them it provides the guarantee of European competition and an overall revenue boost of a projected €1 billion with the biggest name clubs from the biggest markets and leagues providing a more compelling sales story to sponsors and broadcasters.

But even with the new proposals as they stand clubs like Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and AC Milan would have missed out on Champions League football this season because they did not finish in the top four of their domestic leagues last season. In fact only Manchester United qualified for the Europa League out of these teams.

Bearing that in mind the guaranteed entry into a European Super League and guaranteed access to its revenues has a strong attraction for the big name clubs, though one report was that the English clubs, who currently benefit from the biggest domestic league commercial revenues, were not the drivers of the proposal as it would have comparatively less impact on their financial performance.

Within UEFA circles there has been much comment that the situation with the clubs was allowed to get to this position with many sources putting blame for a lack of action at the door of former general secretary Gianni Infantino who was deep into his successful campaign for the FIFA presidency when clubs were demanding talks and change.

Waiting in the wings is Chinese group Dalian Wanda who are understood to want a stake in the European game and to re-organise European club competition structure to achieve this – a reorganisation that they would base almost exclusively around the leading clubs. The power and lure of the money Wanda could bring to the table to get this moving should not be under-estimated. Led by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, meetings are understood to be arranged with leagues this October.

Wanda may have a short track record in football but it is already one that shows it can make things happen quickly. In July Wanda announced that, with the Chinese FA, it will host an annual ‘China Cup’ tournament that will bring some of the world’s best national teams to raise the profile of the Chinese national football teams. The first event will kick off in Nanning, Guangxi Province on January 9 next year, running to the January 16, and was approved by FIFA in rapid time.

The new-found ability of the Chinese to be an animator of the international calendar will not be lost on UEFA in its negotiations with the leading clubs.

With UEFA’s federations set to elect a new president in September, one of the most pressing issues on his agenda will be to find a common ground their clubs.

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