What reform of UEFA club competitions might look like

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin and his Executive Committee will be in the spotlight this week. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin and his Executive Committee will be in the spotlight this week. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images) /
UEFA reforms part 1
UEFA headquarters will be the scene of important debate this week. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images) /

UEFA is entering a crucial week as they prepare to reform the formats for all UEFA club competitions beginning in 2024.

Less than a week after six enticing semifinal return legs, UEFA’s Executive Committee will convene on Tuesday to discuss a multitude of topics. Should the green light be given, UEFA will elaborate on their initial press release from last year. If the vote does not take place, more discussion will ensue.

In this two part series, I will make some predictions about the changes to the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, and Europa Conference League come the 2024-25 season. These predictions will reflect what has been made public, changes made in recent years, as well as conversations I have had with people with close knowledge of the situation. (To see Part 2, click here.)

Proposal for coefficient places in UCL will not happen

I’ll start with the most controversial issue of the lot. The buzz surrounding Champions League reformatting is about allocating two places for teams that did not qualify for the competition’s new league phase by finishing in a position that would have initially qualified them (top 4 in Premier League, for example).

The two teams that finish just below the automatic Champions Leagues places but have the best coefficient points over a five-year period would still be allowed into the competition. Here’s a look at the current club coefficient rankings as well as how these points are calculated.

There are two principle reasons why I do not see this being approved. Firstly, there is a widespread backlash from clubs, leagues, and fan groups about this potential addition. Some have gone as far as to liken it to the failed European Super League of a year ago. The thought is that this is another way to allow the biggest clubs, which have the most coefficient points, another entrance into UEFA’s premier club competition even if they have a below-par season. This could damage UEFA’s image, so I do not see this happening.

The other reason I think this won’t occur is UEFA’s recent meetings with fan groups. If they want fair competition with improved access for all, this is not be the way to proceed.

I expect these places to be given to the next two highest ranked domestic leagues in UEFA’s national association rankings that do not have an automatic place available (associations 11 and 12). Back in 2018 when UEFA changed the Champions League to the current format, the two aforementioned associations were deprived of group stage places that were handed over to non-champions from the biggest leagues. The best way to compensate those countries is giving back what was taken from them.

New league phase to have eight matches instead of 10

Another major issue is the number of matches played at the “league phase,” which will replace the current group stage.

The proposal is that the 36 teams will be placed in a single table and would play a select number of teams of varying levels. Dubbed the “Swiss system,” UEFA would have the teams play 10 different opponents in this “league phase.”

This prompted complaints from clubs and players and I do not think UEFA will increase the games by this much.

The European Leagues, an organization representing over 30 national leagues, has been vocal about having just eight games at this stage. I think this will be the result, as this is considerably easier to schedule. And with the seeding system in place (which is unlikely to change), it would seem easier to devise a schedule with eight games rather than 10.

France to have four Champions League places

I have seen contrasting reports regarding the number of places available to the fifth ranked national association (currently France, and likely to stay this way).

It has been confirmed that one of the four extra places in the competition proper will be given to France, meaning the third place team from Ligue 1 will now enter the league phase directly instead of the third qualifying round (note this does not occur if the Europa League winner also earns a Champions League place via its league, to which Ligue 1’s third best team takes the vacant place in the group stage).

The big question though is whether the fourth place team in France will take that place in the qualifying rounds. My thinking is yes. The reason for this is due to the lack of change to the so-called non-champions path of qualifying. There are still two teams from this section that will make the league phase. This features nine domestic league runners-up from mid-ranked leagues, France’s third place team and another third place team from another nation (currently Portugal).

I think the fourth place team from Ligue 1 will end up in this path, replacing the third place team. This will require fewer changes. There are articles suggesting this will transpire, so I will side on this and expect it to happen.

More teams will be in Europe altogether

Adding to my point about France receiving one more Champions League place, I believe there will a couple of more places added to the Conference League via the qualifying rounds. This would be to one or two associations that currently have four European places (associations below the top 15). I would say at maximum three more places will be made available.

UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin has made it clear that no access list has been determined yet, further supporting my notion that one or two extra spots could be added as a result.

UEFA Champions League semis will still have two legs

This is a more recent development, but there are strong rumours that UEFA is pushing to change the semifinal into a “Final Four” tournament played over a week at a predetermined site. The thought is to have a football festival that would also feature the finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and the UEFA Youth League.

PSG president Nasser al-Khelaïfi is said to be the strongest pursuer of this change. He also has received some backing from a few in the European Club Association, another body with representatives from leading clubs from each of UEFA’s member associations. Al-Khelaïfi is also the president of this association.

While UEFA is open to implementing this, I do not see it going through. The recent semifinals in the club competitions brought a level of excitement that was electrifying. Replacing home matches with another pair of neutral venue matches does not seem likely. This article from The Athletic highlights the pros and cons of this. I have also heard that there is still not enough support for this, so I doubt the idea of a “Final Four” will occur.

Champions League matches to stay on Tuesdays, Wednesdays

UEFA has considered establishing exclusive Champions League weeks, with select league phase matches taking place on Thursdays. In a recent interview with Diario AS, UEFA’s Čeferin said sees no reason for the premier club competition to start playing on Thursdays, particularly with Europa League and Europa Conference League scheduled on that night.

I agree with Čeferin, so much so that I think this plan will be put in the rubbish bin. To go one step further, I do not expect to see any weeks solely set aside for Champions League matches (bar the final). As he mentioned, there is no good reason for this to happen. So, Champions League will stay on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

UEFA club competition reforms, Part 2. dark. Next

There will be a second part to come out on this, so stay tuned for the second half of these impending changes to club football’s best competitions.