UEFA’s revised Champions League qualification plans ‘fair’ and ‘add value’ – ECA

Co-efficient ranking is set to be used to determine two of the qualifiers for the new-look Champions League group phase.
UEFA’s revised Champions League qualification plans ‘fair’ and ‘add value’ – ECA

By Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter

A revised proposal to admit two teams to the Champions League who miss out on regular qualification based on their historic performance is “fair” and “adds value”, according to one of the vice-chairman of the European Club Association.

Original plans for the new European competition formats from 2024, which were approved by UEFA’s executive committee in the hours after the Super League launched last April, included two places in the 36-team Champions League group phase for sides based on their UEFA co-efficient ranking.

A club’s co-efficient is based on performance in Europe over the previous five seasons, and it was proposed that the top two clubs in that table who had missed out on the Champions League via domestic position would enter the group phase, so long as those clubs had done enough to qualify for one of the lesser club competitions.

That could have led to Manchester United, for example, finishing sixth or seventh and leapfrogging a Premier League rival into the continent’s premier competition.

Europe’s top leagues, including all the clubs in the Premier League, had been understood to be opposed to the potential for leapfrogging. The European Leagues umbrella group, which includes the Premier League, and fans’ organisations insist qualification has to be earned on the pitch.

UEFA has now tweaked the proposal, so that the co-efficient places must be awarded only to clubs who have finished immediately outside the Champions League qualification places in their country – so fifth in the Premier League.

ECA vice-chairman and UEFA club competitions committee member Aki Riihilahti believes the new proposal strikes the right balance.

Former Crystal Palace defender Aki Riihilahti, now a vice-chairman of the ECA, has welcomed the revised UEFA proposal
Former Crystal Palace defender Aki Riihilahti, now a vice-chairman of the ECA, has welcomed the revised UEFA proposal (Sean Dempsey/PA)

“Referring to the European performance (co-efficient) spots, I think when you add domestic performance to it, which we did, you have to look for the whole picture – how do we actually have the quality competitions, the premium competitions and then the inclusion,” the former Crystal Palace player, now chief executive of Finnish club HJK Helsinki, said at a press conference following the ECA’s General Assembly in Vienna on Tuesday.

“So now, when we add domestic performance, so that the next best (outside of the regular Champions League qualifiers) is there, so that there’s no leapfrogging, it’s fair.

“It adds value, and overall if you look at the total picture, it makes sense. So as (the chief executive of) a smaller country champion I was very OK with the whole thing.”

It is understood the Premier League is encouraged to see UEFA moving away from the original proposal on co-efficient places, and that it intends to work closely with all stakeholders to review any new proposals in the next stage of the process.

  • 36 teams in the group phase instead of 32.
  • One group instead of eight.
  • 10 matches per team instead of six.
  • Top eight qualify for the last 16, the teams finishing 16th to 24th to play off for the final eight spots.

The new Champions League format, set to come into effect for the 2024-25 season, would feature 36 teams instead of the current 32 all playing in one league.

The format signed off last April involved each team playing 10 matches under the so-called ‘Swiss system’, with the top eight qualifying for the last 16 knockout stage by right and the next 16 clubs in the table playing off for the remaining eight slots.

Riihilahti believes the proposals are an improvement on the current situation for UEFA associations ranked 10th downwards.

There would be a minimum of 37 domestic champions represented across the group stages of the three European competitions – the Champions League, Europa League and the Europa Conference League, which is in its inaugural season.

Runners-up from a minimum of 33 countries would also have a chance of Europa League qualification, where before they could only qualify for the Conference League.

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