UEFA’s plan to expand the Champions League in the 2024/25 season seems to have slipped under the radar; a dangerous fact considering the threat it poses to the integrity of Europe’s premier club competition.
People who know me will know I’m not a man who likes change.
When I buy trainers, if I find a style I like, the chances are I’ll return further down the line to buy the same shoes, but in a different colour.
I know what I like and how I like it and that extends to football too.
Nothing quite stands the hairs up on the arms of any diehard football fan, me included, quite like the sound of the famous Champions League music blaring out on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
It’s the pinnacle of club competition, pitting the very best against one another in a fight for European glory.
However, UEFA are trying to take all of this away, with the introduction of a new Champions League format that goes against the very spirit of competition, all in the name of increased television viewership.
For the 2024/25 season, the number of teams participating in Europe’s premier club competition will increase from 32 to 36, to accommodate the Champions League’s first round proper transforming from a traditional group stage into a single league stage.
Every club will now be guaranteed to play a minimum of 10 league fixtures (five home, five away) against 10 different opponents, rather than the six games (three home, three away) they are required to play currently.
Not only will this add to an already congested footballing calendar, with the finalists having played at least 17 matches, four more than under the current format, but it also threatens compromise the integrity of the competition altogether.
With all of the 36 teams thrown together in the same group, not all teams will meet. Who plays who will be determined via a draw and this is where the problems begin to arise.
Now maths tells you that by putting 36 teams into four pots, you will have nine teams per pot. As a result, if you play 10 other teams, you’ll have to play two teams from two pots and three teams from the remaining two pots.
What this means is that, in all likelihood, some teams will play three teams from the best pot and two from the worst, whereas others may only play two from the best but three from the worst.
Now this may all sound very much like a man set in his ways grumbling about how life is unfair. After all, in the current format, by the luck of the draw, some teams get easier fixtures than others.
However, the difference is that, in an isolated group of four where you play each team home and away, the teams that play the best more or less progress.
In this new format, teams can be dumped out of the competition at the 11th hour courtesy of a team that they have not had the chance to play grabbing a last-minute winner against another team that they have not had the chance to play.
Where is the justice in that?
It gets worse.
The top eight sides automatically qualify for the knockout stage, but the teams that finish from ninth all the way to 24th enter a draw to play in two-legged play-off ties to secure their passage to the last 16.
This draw is also made randomly. The issue?
A team can play very average football, finish 23rd of 36 teams, edge through a play-off against the 24th-best side and then find themselves seven games away from European glory.
There’s no greater reward for success than there is for mediocrity.
Even more than this, half of the additional four new Champions League spots that will be created will be awarded to clubs based on their history, rather than on sporting merit.
Two of the four new spots will go to the clubs with the highest club coefficient over the last five years that have not qualified for the Champions League group stage, but rather for either the Champions League qualifiers, the Europa League, or the Europa Conference League.
It really is a shambles, yet the whole thing seems to have passed the footballing world by, without anyone so much as kicking up a fuss.
Why have UEFA made that change?
Well, I imagine for most of you reading, the answer is already clear as day.
By the time the winner has lifted ol’ Big Ears, the competition will have raked in more cash than ever, courtesy of the 100 new games they will be able to sell to broadcasters.
Sure, UEFA’s arguments for the revamp will convince some.
After all, the prospect of nearly all participants having a shot at progressing into the last 16 right up until the last round of games does sound like a mouth-watering prospect.
But the purpose of the Champions League is for those crowned to be able to say without doubt: “We are the very best that Europe has to offer”.
You can’t help but think that with this new format that a lot of people’s response to that statement is going to be: “But, are you?”.
We hope you enjoyed this article ‘Why UEFA’s 2024/25 Champions League Expansion Plan Spits in the Face of Competition’. What do you think about the new format? Follow me at @luke_sport_news and let me know!
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