The UEFA Champions League has changed formats quite a few times throughout its history. After starting with a 16-team competition from its inception, it is now set to host over double the initial number of participants.
The new 36-team competition is set to allow more teams to participate in the continent’s premier club competition. Moreover, the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League – which is to be known as the UEFA Conference League as of next season – will also have 36 teams at its main stage.
But what does it mean for the nations hoping for a look into the competition? Will the additional places allow other nations to rake in some of the cash? Or is this another step to appeal to the ‘Big 5’ leagues and perpetually delay the spawn of hydra head that is the European Super League?
More spots, more representation?
The four additional spots have been segregated in a manner that will help some clubs falling behind maintain their claim as one of Europe’s finest. Instead of granting a couple of spots to the nations with a limited and lower representation in the UCL, UEFA has decided to take a different approach.
Two of the four spots are reserved for the two countries with the best seasonal coefficient of the previous season. The next best teams in those countries’ domestic leagues that did not automatically qualify for the Champions League, will qualify. If the 2022/23 campaign was to be taken into account, England and Italy would have earned an extra place via their clubs’ continental performances that term.
One spot is reserved for clubs who play in the Champions League’s qualifying rounds. That will see five domestic champions earn a place in the UCL proper via qualifying, an increase of one.
The last spot is ultimately granted to the team that finishes third in the fifth highest league according to UEFA’s five-year country coefficient rankings. France finished fifth in the five-year ranking last season and will win that extra spot.
When the announcement for the additional spots was confirmed, many would have thought it would allow other nations for a better representation as part of the revamp. However, that does not seem to be the case. The addition of the extra spots could have allowed more nations and other clubs to contend for the elusive spot in the UCL.
Furthermore, the changes will unanimously be perceived as one designed to create some of the biggest matchups in club competition without considering the impact of absence for the lower-ranked leagues. It will exemplify the fact that these changes are not being inculcated for the benefit of the lower-ranked leagues in the continent.
The Swiss Model
The new format, more commonly acknowledged as the Swiss model adds a new spin to the most popular club competition in the world. All the qualified teams are placed in a single league table but will not play every other team. The clubs will play eight different teams instead. This is to allow a variety of different opponents for the competing clubs. This was drawn from the chess competition format that is commonly used in many of the top competitions.
Qualification to the knockouts has seen a small change for the European competition. The top eight teams automatically join the round of 16 as the seeded team. But instead of eight teams falling to the UEL, the 16 teams from who finish from ninth to 24th heading into a knockout phase, the winners of which will ultimately join the seeded teams in the round of 16. This will allow these teams an extra chance to head deeper into the competition.
From the day of its announcement until the present, the revamp has faced consistent backlash and heavy criticisms from the fans. The change has not been seen as a welcome one, but the impending inception could ultimately change that.
What is next?
The 2024/25 season will see the inaugural campaign of the Swiss model being implemented across the UEFA club competitions. With further spots available, it could either spark the entire continent into life or might be the biggest blunder in the history of the competition.
But until the practical implementation of the competition format takes place, it will continue to have backers for and against without facts. Fans will hope that this decision ultimately pays off in the best interests of themselves as well as their clubs. Whether that is the case, can only be predicted at this point.