Here is exactly how Uefa plan on bringing in a European Super League by the back door
Aleksander Ceferin, the Uefa president, has told a fans’ group that “a closed [European] Super League is simply not possible with us.”
The 51-year-old replied to the Middlesbrough Supporters Forum last month after Chris Joseph, the chairman, wrote to the Slovenian in his native language to express their concerns about potential changes to the European game. Ceferin answered in English in an attempt to reassure the fans.
The lawyer said that Uefa has no plans to sanction a division comprised of the game’s richest clubs insulated from relegation. “I value very much this opportunity to clarify that there has never been a concept of European Super League considered by Uefa in the notion you describe of a competition reserved to a handful of powerful clubs selected on the basis of their history/brand/renown, cutting themselves off the rest of the system,” the letter says.
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Uefa is considering substantive changes to the format of the Champions League. From 2024 the competition will have 32 teams in four groups of eight. The bottom two sides in each group will be relegated with four of the clubs replaced by the Europa League semi-finalists. It has not yet been decided how the other four slots will be filled but it is likely that a pre-tournament knockout phase will take place between teams who performed well in their domestic league.
The concern is that 24 sides will retain their Champions League places each season regardless of their performances at home. It is a fundamental shift that undermines the importance of the domestic game. There are also plans to introduce another European trophy to give some of the smaller leagues more access to continental competition.
The changes will be announced next year to give Uefa’s broadcast partners an opportunity to see the format before they bid for television rights. Ceferin is correct to say that it will not create a closed league. However, it will be extremely difficult for teams outside the gilded circle to force their way into the Champions League. The Premier League is likely to be one of the biggest losers if the new system is introduced. Television money will be drawn to the new competition – which will feature at least four of England’s biggest clubs – and the Premier League’s financial firepower is likely to be significantly weakened.
There is real resentment across Europe over the riches at the top end of English football. Ceferin’s letter hints at this indignation as he suggests Middlesbrough fans should be grateful for their status. “Even if your club does not belong to the so-called elite, please never forget that you enjoy a situation of privilege if you compare to most part of Europe as the UK is a leading market offering football top class infrastructure and significant financial resources,” he writes.
The Uefa president last week postponed talks with the European Clubs Association (ECA) and the European Leagues body scheduled for September 11, saying that “a new discussion now would be premature as we are analysing feedback and proposals coming from different parties.”
The Premier League is against the restructure of European competition but the ‘Big Six’ – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – have mixed feelings about the possible changes. In an interview last week Liverpool’s chairman and co-owner Tom Werner was unequivocal about his club’s stance. “Our first intention is to protect the inherent strength of the Premier League,” Werner said. “I don’t want to participate in anything that in any way harms that experience both from a Liverpool supporter’s point of view and also in terms of the primacy of English football.”
The financial rewards available in the new system will put that position to the test. The criteria for awarding the 32 places in the revamped Champions League has not been decided but it is likely to be a combination of league performances in the previous four seasons. European success may play a part, too. Liverpool are almost certain to be given a slot even if they have a dreadful campaign.
After the Premier League annual general meeting in June, representatives of the Big Six flew to Malta to attend an ECA meeting and express England’s objections to Uefa’s plans. John W Henry, Werner’s fellow owner, never made it to the island and the English clubs’ opposition to the changes was, at best, lukewarm.
There is also a vacuum at the top of the Premier League. The chief executive and chairman roles have remained vacant since the retirement of Richard Scudamore last year. At a time when the domestic game needs strong direction, the main leadership positions are still empty.
The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) and club groups like the Middlesbrough Supporters Forum have serious concerns about the future of the sport. The FSA is in the process of making fans across the country aware of the consequences of recent developments and will be organising protests at grounds during the autumn.
Ceferin’s letter is unlikely to reassure any of the interested parties. Promotion and relegation will continue to exist in European competition but the degree of difficulty required for clubs to reach and become a regular member of the Champions League elite 24 make rising to the top extremely unlikely. Uefa, whatever the president’s protestations, are bringing in a Super League by the back door.