The following article is a translation of an article published on Calcio e Finanza on November 25, 2016.
During these past months there has been much debate on the reforms of European club competitions. From the Champions League, with the hypothesis of the creation of a Super League among the best clubs, to the Europa League, the little sister economically speaking in comparison.
What has happened in recent years in Europe is there for all to see. CF – calcioefinanza.it has analyzed the evolution of competitiveness from different points of view between the different clubs at the European level.
A decisive factor was certainly the Bosman ruling, where from that point going forward the player transfer market became European, thus allowing the concentration of top players on a few teams and thus diverging from the competitions that have been structured on a national basis, with Europe as an aggregator rather than as a single entity.
This system has never matched a European competition system which, just like the national one, awarded the “European” merit of the individual clubs.
Champions League and Europa League in light of the current market and rules, are the equivalent of a Serie A league not with the 20 best teams but built by drawing, for example, the 6 best of Serie A plus the 5 best of Serie B, the best 4 of Serie C and so on and so forth…
If you think of it in this way you can see how the big European clubs may act as a bully in a sense of the rich versus the poor.
UEFA has been at a crossroads since January 2016: renew the competitions starting with the Champions League or resigning themselves to seeing the birth of a closed Super League.
However European football has a double tradition: the domestic championships and the European ones, which today economically speaking is the most greedy, and potentially the one that can be developed even more.
Is there a solution that respects everyone’s interests as well as tradition? Probably. The only premise is that we must look with disenchanted eyes at the current situation and think of progress.
Going back to the old Champions Cup today would be dull, as well as anachronistic, but years ago this was an idea many were supporting.
The solution can be the creation of a pyramid system of European football, just as it exists in every nation, where the Serie A teams always participate in the Serie A except for the clubs the get promoted/relegated to/from Serie B and lower leagues.
The following is an hypothesis, but clearly represents a guideline and the numbers, although can be debated as long as you want, were not thought of by chance.
A European pyramid system could start from a structure of 3 competitions (which we will call here for simplicity C1, C2 and C3), with 100 teams admitted into the cups each year.
The system would work best if the domestic championships of the main countries were made up of 16 clubs (30 games per year) to which would be added European commitments up to a maximum of 20 matches.
The structure of 100 teams
C1: 20 clubs
C2: 32 clubs
C3: 48 clubs
This total will have 20 more teams compared to the current setup of 80 clubs from the group stage of Champions League (32) and Europa League (48) who will be composed of smaller clubs.
Why only 20 clubs in C1? The top clubs require not only to participate in the competition on a regular basis, but also the opportunity to have the most big marquee European matchups possible. The current 32 club setup in Champions League limit this hypothesis. Limiting the C1 to 20 clubs would allow more high profile matchups.
Let’s take an example. Real Madrid faces Dortmund in group phase and if things go well they face 1/2 of Bayern Munich, Manchester City or the other top clubs in a playoff – with the risk of getting eliminated right away.
Can we really say the current Champions League really rewards the best club?
Let’s not forget the fans are attracted obviously to the matches of the top clubs and with the higher competition, while on TV the same applies as interest will be there more for Juventus-Barcelona and less so for Dinamo Zagreb-Juventus.
If we take the 20 clubs and put them in four groups of five, with the top four advancing to the next stage while the last place in the group relegates to C2.
After the second phase the top eight go to the playoffs, with matchups based not on a draw but based on the results obtained to that point (example 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, etc..) in a way to maximize the value of each single match.
From a scheduling perspective the C1 would leave more space to the others: every week there would be a maximum of 8 matches played in different windows.
Therefore in total the C1 would have a maximum of 19 matches (8+6+5) which would required 21 dates (the group stage of five clubs would require 10 match days). Obviously the 8 additional match days compared to the actual format can be recouped from the smaller domestic matchhes and the abolition of the midweek games, while taking advantage of four weekends. This novelty can be interesting to reach the Asian market who currently are not watching Champions League ties as they are played during the night due to time zone difference.
How do you choose the 20 clubs participating in C1?
First year: choose 20 best by UEFA ranking
Second year: 16 that qualify out of group stage plus the 4 clubs promoted from C2
Champions League Trophy (Photo: Insidefoto.com)
Here is a scenario based on the 2016 ranking:
A: Real Madrid – Chelsea – Juventus – Zenit – Bayer Lev
B: Bayern M – Benfica – Arsenal – Sevilla – Basilea
C: FC Barcelona – PSG – ManCity – Porto – Shalke
D: Atletico M – Borussia DTM – Valencia – Napoli – ManUtd
Not a bad looking group !
In the second phase it obviously is mandatory to have teams from the same group face each other (and if possible, not have teams from the same country).
C2 would be composed of 32 clubs, with 8 relegations and 8 eliminations.
After a group stage of six matches (8 groups of 4), the second phase would have 20 clubs: the top two of each group plus the clubs eliminated from Champions League. At that point with five groups of 4 clubs, the top team of each group and best overall second would advance while the others would play the quarter-finals.
The quarter-finals would become decisive immediately because the four winners and semi-finalists would get promoted to C1 the following season.
First year: 32 clubs, ranked from 21 to 52
Second year: 16 clubs that played the second phase the year prior (in other words all of them except the four promoted clubs) + 8 from C3 + 8 with the highest UEFA ranking that are not eligible to play in C1 or C2 (potentially having clubs in C3 who did not get promoted).
Here is a scenario based on the 2016 ranking:
A Shaktar – Villareal – Dnipro – Sp Braga
B AtBilbao – Ajax – Anderlecht – Salisburgo
C Tottenham – Inter – Rubin – Malaga
D Olympiakos – Galatasaray – Sporting L – Bruges
E Milan – PSV – CSKA Mosca – Borussia M
F Dinamo Kiev – Fiorentina – Marsiglia – Hannover96
G Lazio – Liverpool – Viktoria Plzen – Fenerbahce
H Lione – Wolfsburg – AZ Alkmaar – Roma
Essentially for C1 and C2 there wouldn’t be qualification based on domestic results (therefore no qualification based on the top 4 or 3 of domestic competition) but only based on the UEFA ranking, which, if we recall, looks at the European resulsts of each individual club in the last five years.
C2 and C3 would obviously continue playing till there is a champion, but also to give teams the opportunity to move up their UEFA ranking, so they will be in a better position the following year.
The C3 would have 48 clubs and the tournament would play out like the current Europa League – 12 groups of 4 with top 2 qualified that would be joined to the 8 clubs relegated from C2.
The novelty: the round of 16 would be decisive because the winners would get promoted to C2.
From that point moving forward the points would be fundamental for the UEFA ranking.
Who participates in the C3? Every country qualifies the same amount of teams as per Europa League rules plus the teams not included in Champions League.
In Italy’s case, there would be 7 clubs qualified for C1 and C2, and 3 for C3.
The top countries must continue to qualify their clubs to C3 to make the competition more effective, up to a maximum of 10 between the various Cups in every country.
If we look at a smaller country, Denmark for example, at the moment Copenhagen without an adequate ranking would be out of C1 and C2. Therefore Denmark would have 4 clubs in C3.
Obviously to get 48 participating clubs to C3 there would need to be a system of preliminaries. The novely could be the direct qualification to the group phase of the 24 domestic champions of each respective country not included in C1 and C2.
Another idea could be the re-birth of the Cup Winnner’s Cup as a summer tournament, something like the previous Intertoto cup. This would mean separating the 54 domestic cup champions and create an FA Cup style tournament with single match elimination that would qualify the semi-finalists in C3.
The final four can participate in a big event in August in combination with the UEFA SuperCup.
The 48 clubs in C3 would be composed of the 24 clubs not eligible for C1 and C2 plus the 4 from the Cup Winner’s Cup plus 20 clubs from the preliminaries.
This way a club, starting in C3, can aspire to reach the C1. Such a system would reward a history of European results in time and allow international investors to invest in clubs that are out of the competition at the moment.
This would be the most interesting aspect of adopting a UEFA ranking as a criteria of participation.
It is one thing to play every year in Europa League, another to build an adequate ranking and knowing you can play annually in a C2 that could guarantee 12 matches of high level european football for your club.
Such a system would have the following advantages:
- The three competitions would increase the level of competition compared to the two existing ones
- Would have less predictable matches, more meaningful matches – in fact throughout the year you would have outcomes of importance: relegation in November/December, promotions in March/April, winners in May
- Guarantees the usefulness of every single match because of the points gained in UEFA ranking (which today is used only to determine the pots for the draws).
- Would increase the potential of local markets guaranteeing 20 clubs that up to now are excluded from participating in European competition.
- Guarantees European spots to champion teams that often are excluded
- Would allow clubs to create their own European history: today there are clubs that qualify for Europe, and perhaps even perform well (example Midtylland last year or Dnepr of two years ago) who then are excluded the next year. The same applies to Leicester: everything is beautiful, the cinderella team, reach the round of 16 in Champions but the next year is out and can only see the competition with binoculars unless another miracle happens. This way instead it could create its own story and become a meaningful European club. They would start playing against the minnows, but have the possibility of playing meaningful European matches for years to come.
Everything written about this proposed system is debateable but there are certain basic principles:
- less clubs in C1 to increase level of competition and number of marquee matchups, but also to increase teh level of competition in C2
- promotion from one level to another during the season increases the importance of matches that would otherwise be secondary (example a C2 quarter-final or round of 16 C3).
- More participants in the yearly group stages
- Adoption of a pyramid system strongly based on UEFA ranking
- Eligibility based on previous UEFA rankings of past five years and not prior history
- Setting events and objectives such that render each phase of utmost importance and each match decisive.