This week, European Clubs’ Association (ECA) and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli announced the proposals for a new “Swiss system” Champions League format.
The ECA has looked into implementing the new system for the 2024 season, a plan which could see Champions League qualified teams increase from 32 to 36.
With this system in place, the Group Stage would be eliminated and clubs would face other opponents, depending on each club’s UEFA ranking.
Each team would play 10 matches with the results forming an overall league table. Two-legged play-offs will be played to decide who proceeds to the post-Christmas knockout phase.
This system will be preferred by UEFA over the European Super League (ESL) which there was previously talks of last year. The UEFA General Secretary General Giorgio Marchetti opposed the idea saying: “Unity can be lost when insidious ideas are pursued under the pretence of survival, growth and business.”
The ESL was going to affect many clubs financially, especially those with a lower ranking but who are on the verge of developing and growing in European football. Such teams include the likes Italians Atalanta, German club Borussia Monchengladbach and English side Leicester City.
How would this system affect teams financially?
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit football clubs hard, especially financially. The omission of fans from the stadium has been one of the biggest losses that clubs are facing.
Besides a loss in stadium ticket sales, there is also a loss in revenue from food and beverage stalls and from retail shops which are normally visited before fans head over to the match.
The closure of other attractions which fans attended such as clubs’ museums and stadium tours, has also cost clubs millions, as grounds and facilities still need to be maintained and staff and players still need to be paid.
For this reason, Agnelli highlighted the importance of financial reforming for football clubs. Since vaccination against COVID-19 would probably be fully distributed throughout Europe at that time, it could see life returning to a sort of normality. Agnelli plans to use this time of coming back from the hit of the pandemic, to come up with efficient plans when the time comes to fully recover.
One of the main factors that Agnelli looked at is the transfer system.
Agnelli said: “The moment is fertile to think of greater solutions. We should be looking at a wide range of reforms.
“We could think of a double path transfer system, where clubs qualifying for specific tiers of international competition wouldn’t be allowed to but each other’s players.
“That would improve the indirect solidarity to other clubs and mean no triple-figure transfers amongst Champions League participating clubs. These are elements we are discussing.”
With this change put into place, transfers such as that of Brazilian striker Neymar joining French team Paris-Saint Germain from Barcelona for £197 million in 2017; French striker Kylian Mbappe joining French rivals Paris-Saint Germain from Monaco for £166 million in 2018 and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo joining Italian reigning champions Juventus for £105 million from Real Madrid in 2018; would not be able to take place anymore.
How would the increase in matches affect the players’ form and has player care and welfare been considered?
In order to finish the 2019/20 season, clubs were forced to play during summer from June until August. This proved to be difficult for some players who had just gone three months without playing, and like the rest of the world, gone into lockdown. Despite doing their best to upkeep their fitness, this pandemic has affected the players physically and mentally just like it did to the rest of society. Several players have also got infected and suffered from several symptoms which put them a step back from keeping themselves fit.
Playing a great volume of matches in a short period of time has not helped the medical staff of clubs, which had to look after the players’ form even more.
Soon after, the 2020/21 season commenced. This season has shown the side effects of trying to finish several leagues and competitions in a short period of time. Teams such as Liverpool, Real Madrid and Juventus are having a difficult season due to the large volume of injuries which their players are facing.
If one take’s a look at Agnelli’s Juventus, they have been playing on average a match every three days. Juventus are battling it out for the Serie A title, preparing to face Atalanta in the Coppa Italia final and seek to have a successful Champions League campaign.
The players need to also prepare for the international break taking place end of March and for the Euro 2021 which will be happening between June and July.
This system raises the question on whether players would be able to stay in form for the increased matches in European football.
The increased number of matches might force teams to invest in two squads, enforcing a stronger reserve team, which might enable younger players to have more game time.
The English Premier League showed its concerns regarding the number of matches that English clubs will have in their calendars. It has already been proposed to the Premier League to decrease the number of teams to 18 by ‘Project Big Picture’.
In response to this, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters ruled out the idea as he said that “at the moment and for the foreseeable future, the Premier League is a 20-club competition.”
Regarding this matter Agnelli said: “We have countries such as England with the maximum number of games at 53 or 54, Germany is 43. So it’s having a balanced competitive landscape.
“We do think that currently, for competitive balance purposes, 20 teams in league- it’s not just the big league, but many leagues – there are too many.”
Who would fill the extra four places?
In his plans, Agnelli announced that the extra four places would be filled up by teams from “middle-tier” countries whose champions do not qualify directly to the Champions League, but must go through the qualifying phase first.
This is something that the ECA is still looking into but countries might include Austria, Czech Republic, Greece and Croatia.
Author: Catherine Micallef