PARIS: Europe's domestic leagues told UEFA on Friday to scale back the number of Champions League matches intended in the new expanded format and scrap plans to help teams qualify based on their historical performances in the competition.
“An increase of more than 50% of games will hurt the vast majority of clubs and benefit very few,” European Leagues organization chairman Claus Thomsen said after a meeting in Istanbul. “We need to have a lower number of rounds.”
The divisions within European soccer come a year after UEFA united with the leagues to thwart a Super League breakaway by elite clubs, which would still benefit from the changes planned to the Champions League from 2024.
The competition is due to expand from 32 to 36 teams with two slots set aside for teams with a strong five-season European record who fail to qualify based on their domestic league position.
The European Leagues group met to formalize its opposition to the safety-net places for the biggest clubs, telling UEFA that all Champions League spots must be based on qualifications secured from the previous season's domestic results.
“Sporting merit must be the sole criteria to qualify for UEFA club competitions,” Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo said. “We are against the introduction of the so-called European performance spot coefficient system, which would provide an unjustified second chance for some clubs.”
UEFA has been urged ahead of key meetings in Vienna next month that it must roll back the enlargement of the group stage, so it grows only from six to eight games per team rather than the 10 envisaged from 2024 based around a single standings format.
The proposed places for two teams based on their UEFA “coefficient” points are worth tens of millions of dollars in prize money and would reward an elite team having a poor season and also ensure broadcasters can still show the biggest teams in the Champions League. Those teams would still have to finish in a Europa League qualification spot — or win their domestic cup — to make the jump up to the Champions League rather than finishing lower and leapfrogging higher-placed rivals.
But the European Leagues group wants the historical performance places stripped completely from the format to ensure all spots are earned by sporting merit the previous season.
The exemption is the place set aside, as now, for the actual Champions League winner if it fails to qualify through its domestic league.
“On the whole European Super League issue we saw football in Europe coming together and agreeing on certain things including that it is sporting merit that takes us from one level to the next, and we should not have closed tournaments and that we should not move in that direction," Thomsen said. “You could argue it is only two places and now no leapfrogging but you are leaving the basic principle, and in the end I trust UEFA will move in that direction as well.”
Thomsen, who is chief executive of the Danish league, sits on the UEFA club competitions committee, which will meet on May 10. The committee makes formal proposals for approval by the executive committee, which will meet later that day in Vienna.