It’s been in the works for quite a while, it’s now confirmed: despite the incredible spectacle offered by the 2021-22 edition of the Champions League, UEFA is going to modify the most prestigious of European competitions, and not just a little! 36 teams instead of 32, mini-championship instead of the group stage, places kept warm for the historic teams: discover everything that will change for the cup with the big ears!
In 2021, a new European football competition was born: the Super League. But it only lasted 48 hours. 12 rebellious clubs wanted to emancipate themselves from UEFA by creating an ultimate and closed European championship, but quickly abandoned the project in front of the rebellious supporters. Faced with the desires of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and all the others, UEFA therefore wanted to bring change to the Champions League, and continued to work on a reform, already in the pipeline for several years. At a meeting this week in Vienna, Austria, the UEFA executive committee has decided on the changes to the competition from 2024. And there are many…
Ah, the Champions League. This famous competition which takes place in the middle of the week, and which gives us posters of madness. Especially at the moment, with the big show provided by Real Madrid, among others. Before arriving at the current formula, in which up to four teams from certain countries (England, Spain, Italy and Germany) can qualify, the Champions League has already seen more formulas than Harry Potter after his formation in Hogwarts. First called the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, it only opposed… the reigning champion clubs of all European countries. That was simple, and made the event aptly named. The name became Champions League in 1992, and the format began to evolve: the group stage was introduced, first with 8 teams, then 16 from 1994, and 24 from 1997. Now, the latter of each championship were also qualified. Thus Real and Barça, Manchester United and Arsenal, or AC Milan and Juventus could find themselves in the competition, and the big posters multiplied.
36 teams instead of 32
But it was obviously still not enough. From 1999, the third and fourth of the biggest championships are also invited to take part in the celebration, and 32 teams are now involved. There are then two group stages, but the formula changes again, in 2003, to set up the round of 16, and the format that we now know and appreciate so much. So inevitably, almost 20 years without change, it was starting to do a lot for UEFA, especially after the attempt to launch the Super League. From 2024, things will change again, and for now, this may be good news for France: because the third in the country ranked fifth in the UEFA coefficient (currently France therefore) will be qualified directly, while he currently has to go through a play-off round. For the rest, things could get complicated…
While for many observers, the “real” Champions League, the greatest spectacle, only really begins from the round of 16 and therefore the knockout rounds, with matches played back and forth, the previous group stage will become longer, while being very different. Explanations: there will now be 36 qualified teams, which will play in the same championship, but which will only play eight matches each. This is called the “Swiss system”. That is to say that each club will face four others at home, four others away, according to certain criteria: there will be 4 pots of 9 teams, because 4×9 = 36. At the end, the first 8 in the general classification will directly qualify for the round of 16, the last eight will be eliminated, while the teams classified between 9th and 24th place will play a two-round play-off, with the 9th facing the 24th, the 10th the 23rd, the 11th the 22nd… In short, you have understood.
“This decision confirms UEFA’s firm commitment to the principle of open competitions based on sporting merit, while recognizing the need to protect national championships.”
In its press release, UEFA explains its motivations for this reform of the Champions League. But what you need to understand above all is that there will be even more matches: currently, in the group stage, the clubs only play 6 matches to qualify (or not). In this XXL championship, they will play 8, and even 10 for the play-offs, before reaching the round of 16. In addition to the evolution of the format, the attributions also change a little. As mentioned above, the 3rd in the championship ranked 5th in the UEFA coefficient would be directly qualified. Currently, France occupies this place. The “champion’s path”, which allows reigning champions from less well-placed countries to have a greater chance of passing the play-offs, would allow 5 teams to qualify from 2024, compared to 4 currently.
2x more Champions League matches
And finally, while it was originally planned that 2 clubs not qualified for the Champions League would be invited each season according to their UEFA coefficient (roughly, if FC Barcelona or Manchester United, for example, finished 5th in their championship), UEFA finally changed its mind. From now on, these two “golden tickets” will be given to the two best European nations of the previous season. At the moment, it is therefore the 5th in the English championship and the 3rd in the Netherlands who would have qualified.
As you will have understood, the Champions League will not really become simpler, but above all it will offer more matches: 225 in total, compared to 125 today. We can only hope that the spectacle we have been witnessing for so many years remains unchanged…
Sources: UEFA, The Team, Europsort, Onze Mondial, The World