UEFA agrees new UCL format but scraps ‘grandfathered’ slots and drops two match days

By Andrew Warshaw

May 11 – Buffeted by criticism from leagues and fans, UEFA has scrapped plans to hand Champions League places to clubs based on past success.

The number of teams in Europe’s elite club competition will rise from 32 to 36 from 2024-25 under widely published changes approved by UEFA’s executive committee on the eve its annual congress today.

But abandoning the plan to give two slots to clubs solely on the basis of their past European performance over five years is a significant climbdown by the governing body.

Supporters across Europe fiercely objected to the reforms, as did Europe’s leagues who insisted for months on end that rich teams who fail to qualify for the Champions League domestically should not be allowed a place through the backdoor without having earned it.

The original proposal, based on a club’s UEFA coefficient, was viewed as an attempt to appease the most powerful teams and stave off the threat of another Super League.

But amid complaints that teams with the strongest five-season record in Europe should not be given special priority, a scaled-back compromise has now been agreed.

On the eve of its annual congress in Vienna, UEFA’s executive committee decided that instead, two of the four extra places will now be awarded on the performance of a country’s clubs in Europe over only the previous season from 2024-25 onwards.

The reformatted group stage has also been reduced from 10 rounds to eight with 64 extra games instead of 100.

“The final two places will go to the associations with the best collective performance by their clubs in the previous season (total number of points obtained divided by the number of participating clubs),” UEFA said in a statement.

The first main stage to the new-look Champions League will see eight teams qualify automatically for the round of 16. Those finishing in ninth to 24th place will compete in a two-legged play-off to secure their path to the last 16.

“We are convinced that the format chosen strikes the right balance,” said UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin, “and that it will improve the competitive balance and generate solid revenues that can be distributed to clubs, leagues and into grassroots football across our continent while increasing the appeal and popularity of our club competitions.”

“I am really pleased that it was a unanimous decision of the UEFA Executive Committee, with the European Club Association, European Leagues and National Associations all agreeing with the proposal made.”

“UEFA has clearly shown today that we are fully committed to respecting the fundamental values of sport and to defending the key principle of open competitions, with qualification based on sporting merit, fully in line with the values and solidarity-based European sports model.”

The European Club Association (ECA), which represents more than 240 clubs and backed the original plan to hand two places to clubs based on historical success, nevertheless endorsed the entire package of reforms.

It said the changes “mean that the new-look competitions will have the best start in life, resulting from exhaustive consultations between UEFA and ECA over a number of years that ensure the legitimate interests of all relevant stakeholders are respected – driven by collective rather than self-interest”.

“The new format also gives the opportunity for future growth of European football in a sustainable, responsible and inclusive way.”

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