Top four leagues to get four spots in Champions League group stageGabriele Marcotti, European Football Correspondent
Uefa’s executive committee will this month vote on a new set of rules governing European competition for the next three-year cycle, from 2018 to 2021. The good news? There won’t be a breakaway European Super League. At least not until after the 2020-21 season. The bad news? The big clubs from the big leagues have used their big stick to bully their way to more concessions.
Negotiations with the top clubs have been ongoing for more than six months. Sources say a tentative agreement has been reached and will be rubber-stamped in two weeks’ time.
It could have been worse. The clubs threatened to go it alone if they did not get their own way
The main upshot is that the four leagues who sit atop the Uefa coefficient rankings — Spain’s La Liga, the Premier League, the German Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A — will each automatically enter four teams in the Champions League, without the need for qualifying. At present they have 11 guaranteed spots, plus up to an additional four via the preliminary round. Put another way, half the teams in the competition will come from four countries.
The rich get richer. And it could have been worse. When negotiations began, Europe’s heavyweight clubs — led by Real Madrid and Juventus — were threatening to go it alone if they did not get their way. Among the demands made at different times was a “wild card” system so teams who failed to qualify could get in on “historical merit” because they had won the competition multiple times. Or a new commercial entity — with the big clubs as shareholders — to run the competitions. Or playing Champions League games on weekends, when they can attract greater TV audiences.
Those who hammered out the compromise with the clubs feel they’ve got the best deal they could to keep the competition (relatively) safe through 2021. That may be true, but in fact they’ve only kicked the problem up the road. This will only increase the gulf between the top leagues and the rest. It doesn’t take a genius to realise the more the gap grows, the easier it will be to lay the foundations for a European Super League.
Complicating matters for Uefa is the fact that they have been without a president since Michel Platini was banned last year. Elections are set for September and resolving this issue ought to be the first order of the day for whoever comes in.
Curiously, the commercial success of the Premier League is to Uefa’s advantage. English clubs derive a lower proportion of their income from European competition and, thus far, most have been lukewarm — at least in public — about trying to extract more from the Champions League.
The clubs driving the changes argue having guaranteed “brand names” could increase revenue by up to 20 per cent. And that, ultimately, they’re fronting investment in players and bringing in the cash. Broadcasters and sponsors, after all, pay for Barcelona and Bayern on TV, not BATE Borisov and Astana. That’s fine if we decide the Champions League is a purely commercial exercise. Heck, if we’re going to do that, just throw it open to the 32 most popular — and economically viable — teams and be done with it.
Complicating matters for Uefa is the fact that they have been without a president since Platini was banned last year
But Uefa is a governing body. It is supposed to represent each of the 54 member nations. The deck is already stacked in favour of bigger leagues who get more places and more revenue. Yet the greed of certain clubs — particularly big continental clubs keen to keep up with their Premier League rivals — knows no bounds.
At this level, football ceased being a sport some time ago and is now firmly a sector of the entertainment industry. Fine. I get that. But this doesn’t mean the system ought to be rigged even further to favour a handful of already wealthy clubs from bigger nations.