UEFA president postpones talks over revamped Champions League

Kyle Bonn

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin announced he is postponing talks over restructuring the Champions League, calling discussions about reworking the qualification process “premature” after heavy opposition from national leagues.

Ceferin was set to meet with European Club Association chairman – and Juventus chairman – Andrea Agnelli and European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson on September 11, but that has been put off indefinitely until the two sides are “ready for meaningful discussion.”

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The 51-year-old Slovenian has been pushing for a Champions League that largely secures qualification to the group stage from performance in the previous year’s competition rather than via placement in the national league tables, proposing instead a promotion and relegation model that would see 24 of 32 group stage teams locked in place no matter their domestic results, with the bottom eight teams “relegated” from the Champions League each season to the Europa League.

Critics of the new system – of which there are many – have complained that it would close off the competition from a significant amount of teams that would otherwise qualify via national league finishing positions. For example, under the proposed model, semifinalists Ajax would not have qualified for last year’s competition based on its Eredivisie title, instead forced to progress through the Europa League far enough to earn promotion. National leagues also argue that the new model would degrade the drama down the stretch of the season, with very little to play for after a champion is crowned and relegation positions are decided.

“We are currently in the process of gathering feedback from our national associations,” Ceferin wrote in a letter to Agnelli and Olsson obtained by the Associated Press, “and I feel — more generally — that a new discussion now would be premature as we are analyzing feedback and proposals coming from different parties.”

Ceferin said the reason for the postponement was an expanded timeframe and did not refer to criticism or backlash. “As you know very well, UEFA deliberately kicked off the review process for the 2024/27 competition cycle much ahead of our regular schedule and we are therefore in no hurry,” Ceferin told Agnelli and Olsson. “We do not, in any case, expect to make a decision this year.”

Agnelli’s ECA has been the largest supporter of the new model, wishing to push the group stage from four-team groups to eight-team groups as to profit off a larger, more expansive group stage with 14 group stage matches per team instead of six.

According to the AP report by Rob Harris, the Premier League is staunchly opposed to the new model, and while the league claims to have the support of all member clubs, Manchester United chairman Ed Woodward is an ECA board member. Atletico Madrid went on the offensive from Spain, claiming the new model is “the biggest threat in the history of European football in recent years.”

”We firmly believe that European competitions should be a reward for excellence,” a joint coalition of Spanish clubs, including Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Malaga, Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Villarreal wrote back in early June, ”in which the best teams participate in a competition open to all, based on the principles of sporting merit, solidarity among clubs, fair distribution, etc.”

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