'Swiss system' - What a reformed Champions League will look like

Sunday April 18 2021
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The changes are essentially all about creating a new format for the group stage, replacing the existing structure in place since 2003. PHOTO/COURTESY

By AFP

UEFA is expected to formalise radical reforms to the format of the Champions League at a key meeting of its executive committee on Monday which could also see some cities removed as hosts of the delayed Euro 2020.

Plans to reform Europe's elite club competition from 2024 onwards were initially set to be approved last month before being put on hold after the powerful European Club Association (ECA) said it was "not yet in a position to formally endorse key changes".

According to sources close to the negotiations, certain leading clubs wanted greater control of UEFA Club Competitions (UCC), the subsidiary company which advises UEFA itself on commercial matters.

Amid talk of an attempted power grab by certain clubs, and with the spectre of a breakaway Super League possibly involving several of those clubs still hanging in the air, the hope is that a solution has been found.

UEFA confirmed on Friday that the reforms were at the top of the agenda for the meeting in the Swiss town of Montreux, on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva.

The Champions League group stage is set to be completely overhauled, with an increase from 32 to 36 participants and the introduction of a so-called 'Swiss system' inspired by chess, with clubs playing 10 group games instead of the current six, all against different opponents.

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The UEFA champions league might adopt a new format. PHOTO/COURTESY

While the broader outline of the reforms has been an open secret for some time, discussions have been ongoing about several details, including who the four extra places would go to.

France, as Europe's fifth-ranked nation, is expected to get a third guaranteed spot in the group phase, while more places could be given on the back of historical performances -- using UEFA's club coefficient.

That would benefit clubs who have enjoyed success in the past but who failed to qualify via their league position -- think clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool, currently underperforming in the Premier League, or Borussia Dortmund in Germany, who as it stands may all miss out on next season's Champions League.

The ultimate goal of the reforms is to increase broadcast rights for the competition to satisfy cash-hungry leading European clubs and end the threat of a breakaway Super League.

At the same time UEFA's need to finalise plans for Euro 2020 is pressing.

- Doubts over Munich, Bilbao and Dublin -

Postponed by a year due to the pandemic, the European Championship is set to start in Rome on June 11 and is supposed to be played at 12 different venues spread across the continent, a controversial arrangement even before the pandemic brought about widespread travel restrictions.

The Italian capital was only confirmed as a host city last Wednesday when local authorities confirmed spectators would be allowed in up to 25 percent of the capacity of the 68,000-seat Stadio Olimpico.

It joins eight other cities -- Saint-Petersburg, Baku, Budapest, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Glasgow and London -- in being confirmed, although the number of fans allowed into stadiums will vary from one venue to the other.

However, uncertainty remains over the three other host cities.

Munich, Bilbao and Dublin were all given until Monday to provide UEFA with additional information on their plans for spectators.

UEFA could yet take matches due to be played there and relocate them to other existing host cities, although the president of the Spanish Football Federation has said he will do "everything humanly possible" to ensure Spain keeps its four scheduled Euro games.

If UEFA decide that Bilbao, in the Basque Country, cannot host matches, Luis Rubiales has suggested Seville could be an alternative option.

"It is true that there are serious difficulties in Bilbao and with this in mind, it is UEFA who has to decide," he said.

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In this file photo taken on March 09, 2021 a banner is on display which reads "Stop UCL reforms" as Sevilla players make their way on to the pitch for the UEFA Champions League, Last-16 2nd-Leg football match BVB Borussia Dortmund v Sevilla FC at the Signal Iduna stadium in Dortmund, western Germany. PHOTO/AFP

Plans to radically reform the UEFA Champions League are set to be approved on Monday, when they will be at the top of the agenda at an executive committee meeting of European football's governing body.

The plans -- which are supposed to stave off the threat of a breakaway Super League -- are already an open secret. 

This is how things are set to change:

- More clubs -

The changes are essentially all about creating a new format for the group stage, replacing the existing structure in place since 2003.

At the moment 32 clubs enter the group stage and are split into eight groups of four teams, who play each other home and away with the top two in each group advancing to the last 16.

It is understood the plans will see the number of teams in the group stage increase to 36. Discussions have been ongoing about who the additional berths will go to.

British newspaper The Times recently reported that two extra spots would go to the clubs with the best coefficient who fail to qualify via domestic competitions but have qualified for the second-tier Europa League.

However European Leagues, a body representing the interests of clubs and leagues in 30 countries, has said it is against places being attributed on historical merit and insists the make-up of European competitions "should reflect the current state of domestic competition".

France, which is Europe's fifth-ranked nation but currently only has two guaranteed places in the group stage, should get an extra spot.

- Inspired by chess -

The plans will see a complete overhaul of how the group stage works.

Teams will all be placed into one giant pool and will each play 10 games in a so-called 'Swiss system' more commonly associated with chess. It is also used in the European petanque championships.

For the draw, clubs will be split into four pots of nine based on UEFA coefficients.

Teams will play against 10 different sides, with five games at home and five away.

At the end of this phase, the top eight sides will go through to the last 16, with the bottom 12 eliminated.

Meanwhile the sides finishing between ninth and 24th position will play two-legged play-offs, with those between ninth and 16th drawn against a side finishing from 17th to 24th.

The winners of those ties will complete the last-16 line-up, with the losers dropping into the Europa League.

- Crucially, more matches -

At the heart of the reforms is the desire to play more games, stated explicitly by Andrea Agnelli earlier this year.

"It is our strong view that more European matches are welcome," said Agnelli, who is the chairman of the powerful European Club Association as well as Juventus.

This system certainly offers that.

Each team will play 10 group games instead of six, meaning an overall explosion of the number of matches, with 180 in the group stage instead of the current 96.

The knockout stage remains untouched, but the addition of a play-off round at the end of the group phase means the total number of matches in the competition will sky-rocket from 125 to 225.

A team reaching the final will have to play at least 17 games compared to the current 13.

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