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Group stage over: Champions League turns into top league after controversial reforms

Group stage over: Champions League turns into top league after controversial reforms

With the UEFA Executive Committee meeting (today) on Tuesday and the Congress on Wednesday, Vienna is the site for leading decisions in European football. Initially, the Executive Committee agreed to a compromise on the issue of reforming the European Cup tournaments set for 2021: fewer matches and an adjustment of access criteria for the four additional teams in the Champions League.

Two of the four additional starting places in first division football will go to the previously most successful national associations, and the number of group matches per team will only increase from six to eight instead of the previously planned ten. This was announced by UEFA on Tuesday afternoon.

As previously decided, a total of 36 clubs will participate in the First Division from 2024. A discussion has already erupted over entry requirements for the four additional clubs compared to the current season. In the original model, two places were to be awarded to clubs that had had success in the European Cup in the past but had not qualified for the Champions League in their respective league. Among other things, the merger of European federations and fan organizations criticized this.

With the regulations now set, England and Holland will benefit this season and each with another top-tier player next season. The other two extra places in the Champions League will go to the fifth-best country, currently France, and to another national champion not yet automatically listed.

“We are convinced that the format chosen strikes the right balance and that it improves the competitive balance and generates stable revenue that can be shared between clubs, leagues and the continent’s football base, while at the same time increasing the popularity of clubs,” said UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.

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The original overhaul saw the number of preliminary round matches per club increased to ten. This has now been reduced to eight. In the current pool system, each team plays six matches before the knockout phase begins. From 2024, the league system will be played in the preliminary round, but not everyone will play against everyone.

After the premiere in 1955, 1994 and 2015, the fourth edition of the Congress in Vienna was also a matter of prestige for the Austrian Football Association. “We are very pleased”, said UEFA General Secretary Thomas Holler, whose association does not appear to be the organizer, but he is “a little helper” in dealing with the event with around 300 participants.

Austria is not represented on the 17-member Executive Committee (Ceferin and 16 other countries). Senior local officials President Gerhard Milic and Bundesliga representative Philipp Tonhauser and Hewlerer will intervene on Wednesday only in Messe Wien at the 55-nation conference. Last but not least, Holler emphasized the changing circumstances under which the meeting is taking place: “It’s the first post-Covid conference, you can finally see each other face to face again.”