UEFA has embraced radical changes.
The history of the revolution in European football is still fresh in memory – the Super League shot up unexpectedly and brightly but quickly burned out like a comet. However, it would be wrong to think that the reform of the Champions League was a response to this action. UEFA had already listened to the top teams requesting more high-profile matches to increase revenue.
The most noticeable change is the increase in the number of matches for each participant in the main group stage – from six to eight. Initially, there was even an idea for ten games, but many clubs protested, saying the schedule was already intense. The number of clubs in the revamped group stage will also increase from 32 to 36. A Swiss system will form the basis of the tournament to accommodate all these wishes into a unified format.
This is not a novelty; the concept has been around for about a century and came from chess. It implies that the initial pairs are drawn based on ratings (the strongest with the weakest, the second with the second weakest, and so on) or by a blind draw. Then, winners of previous matches play against each other, as do the losers and those who had a draw. Teams cannot face each other twice according to the rules. As a result, there will be more matches between top teams and fewer between weaker ones.
In addition, there will be an element of unpredictability as there will be no predetermined match calendar. Each time, you will only find out the name of your nearest opponent. Before that, you can speculate about who might be drawn based on the rules and who might not be.
The number of game weeks will significantly increase – to ten. Consequently, each team will have two rest weeks. The total number of matches in the group stage, though it may not be called that way anymore since there will be a shared table, will be 144. Currently, there are only 96.
And what's next? The sweetest part is the knockout stage. The top eight clubs with the most points will go straight to the round of 16. Those who finish from ninth to 24th will play an additional knockout round. They will then join the top eight who skip this stage.
Beyond that, it's business as usual. The idea was to adopt a "Final Four" format with single-game semifinals instead of two-legged ties. This would have added more unpredictability, but it was eventually abandoned. The idea that clubs with the highest ratings in the last ten years would receive additional places in the Champions League regardless of their domestic league performance also garnered some attention. Still, it could have been more popular and was scrapped.
One of the spots will go to the third-best team in the fifth-ranked league. This time, it's Marseille, which, by the way, lost in the qualifiers. There will be no other new direct spots. The maximum quota from one league will be a substantial six clubs.
In terms of money, the Champions League currently brings UEFA 3.6 billion euros for each edition. The projected revenue for the revamped tournament should increase by at least one billion euros. Clubs' revenue growth will be an impressive 21%, almost reaching the same billion euros.
The Champions League will no longer be the same. It should become more attractive. Previously, there was a second group stage. Still, its removal revived the knockout rounds, even though the number of matches decreased. The reverse process is happening, but without sacrificing the knockout stage. The new rules look intriguing and promising. Let's see how it all pans out, not just on paper.
Published by Patrick Jane