The New Champions League: Baggy, Bloated and Boring!

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Is the new Champions League 'Swiss Model' just another Super League in disguise? We find out more about the revised Champions League format.

Logos of the Super League and Champions League.

Conspiracy theorists might be forgiven for wondering whether all that kerfuffle over the aborted Super League wasn’t just a form of smoke-screen for the revised format of Europe’s main competition.

In case you missed it, the Champions League is going to be different from the 2024/25 season onwards. The revised ‘Swiss Model’ was formulated as a way to keep the big clubs happy – (yes, the ones that were secretly plotting to form a new tournament of their own just a few days ago) – by introducing more games to the competition. If you thought the group stages of the Champions League were dull enough already, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

The New Champions League Format

Here are the changes to the format under this ‘Swiss Model’ as outlined by UEFA:

  • 36 clubs will qualify for the tournament instead of the existing 32
  • Each club will play 4 extra games prior to the knockout rounds
  • Instead of 8 groups of 4, there will be a league featuring all 36 teams
  • Each team will play 10 other teams; 5 games at home and 5 away
  • The top 8 teams qualify automatically for the last 16
  • Teams from 9th to 24th play off against each other (home and away) to find the final 8 clubs for the last 16 rounds

After that, everything proceeds as it does now, with home and away knockout games until the final.

This basically means that you will have the pleasure of watching the 24th-best team in Europe play a minimum of 12 games in the tournament. The club currently ranked 24th in Europe according to the official UEFA coefficients table is Bayer Leverkusen. So that’s double the Leverkusen action versus teams like Shaktar Donetsk and FC Salzburg. Who wouldn’t want to see that!

Just in case you were wondering how the extra four teams to join the tournament will be picked, it works like this:

  • 1 spot goes to the third-placed club in the league ranked 5th by UEFA (which at the moment is the French league).
  • 1 spot goes to another domestic league champion from one of the lowlier ranked leagues.
  • 2 spots go to teams who fail to qualify for the Champions League ‘league stage’ but have the highest UEFA co-efficient (just on the off-chance that a big name team fluffs their lines and bombs out before then).

Oh and by the way, the Europa League is going to adopt the same format at some unspecified date, as will something called the Europa Conference League which I can’t even be bothered going into right now. You’ll find out when it’s launched next year…

Bigger Does Not Always Mean Better

‘Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think of the Players!!’, cries Ilkay Gundogan, at the prospect of even more games in the newly expanded Champions League.

To be fair, he has a point.

The 2020/21 season has been a busy one for City. Besides their 38 Premier League matches they will have played 5 EFL Cup games, 5 FA Cup matches and 18 Champions League games – 19 if they make it to the final. That comes to a grand total of 66 (or 67) games in 8 months. And then the Euros kick off on June 11th, 13 days after the Champions League final. And now they want to add another 4-6 games on top of all that?

A Manchester City player lies on the ground after being fouled.

Similarly to the ill-fated Super League, I’m not sure that anybody is getting excited about this revised format other than the owners of the clubs concerned. The players are not likely to be thrilled at the prospect of flying around the four corners of Europe to play 4 – or 6 if they’re in a play-off – games before getting to the knockout stages of the tournament. Only the most hardcore/deranged of fans will look forward to watching more meaningless European games mid-week, a majority of which will have less excitement and jeopardy than an episode of Countdown.

That sneaky little clause about the teams with the ‘highest coefficient’ getting into the competition via the back door is particularly annoying. The whole fuss about the Super League was the fact that the ‘founders’ would have been guaranteed European competition every year. It’s hard to see how at least 10 of those 12 clubs could possibly avoid qualifying for the Champions League under this new model. Even Arsenal might manage to finish 7th in the Premier League and still squeak in there thanks to their co-efficient ranking.

Will it really be so different to a Super League once the new format is introduced?

Sadly, fans are unlikely to take to the streets in protest at revisions to the Champions League group/league stage. There isn’t the same sense of outrage as that provoked by the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal declaring themselves immortal European super-powers despite the fact that Spurs haven’t won the Premier League in 60 years and Arsenal are barely in the top third of the division these days.

It was great to see People Power in action this week, taking the money-men down a peg or two for a changes. Just a shame that the global game still always seems to bow down to the wishes of those billionaires in the end.

Ross O’Connor is an experienced sports writer with a particular interest in the NFL, pro boxing and football. He has written for numerous online and print publications on sports and a variety of other topics.

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