UEFA is proposing an expansion of the Champions League as well as a potential scrap of the Europa League. The new Champions League would feature 64 teams, which is double the size of the currently 32-team league. Every country will be able to send nearly double the number of teams to participate in the Champions League if this does eventually become a reality.
UEFA President Michel Platini has announced the government body of European football are considering a possible expansion of the Champions League.
“We’re discussing it. We will make a decision in 2014. Nothing is decided yet. There is an ongoing debate to determine what form the European competitions will have between 2015 and 2018.”
The Europa League has been sharply declining in popularity recently and European football fans have been questioning its actual value. It just cannot compete with the Champions League, and European clubs do not see it as a priority to them.
Although this is a important problem, UEFA’s proposal is certainly not the way to solve it, for it can inflict more damage than good to the Champions League. Here are some reasons why a possible Champions League expansion is a very bad idea.
Less Competition for Qualification
Today, there are certainly less Champions League spots available then there are good teams in certain domestic leagues. For example, the English Premier League has the potential to send off only 4 teams to participate in the Champions League next season. Because there are so many great teams in England, this adds even more suspense to the domestic league, particularly toward the end of the season, as very good teams fight in a heated battle for the reward of qualification in Europe’s elite league.
If UEFA were to double the size of the Champions League to allow 64 teams to participate, the competitive edge in terms of qualification would also be diminished. The Premier League would likely be able to send 8 clubs to the Champions League. 5 of those 8 teams will most surely be Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspur, meaning that all the great clubs get through with ease.
Less Competitive Group Stages
With a Champions League of 16 groups with 4 teams each, there will definitely be many more one-sided and predictable matches. People even argue that today’s Champions League Group Stage is not extremely competitive, never mind what would happen if the league featured 64 teams.
We certainly wouldn’t see an more groups like this season’s Group D, rightfully known as the “Group of Death,” which features Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, and Real Madrid, all of whom won their respective leagues last season.
Today’s Champions League is very competitive yet still features a large number of nations and teams. Adding more teams to the league would result in more matches. These matches would likely see the teams formerly participating in the Europa League eliminated, and the more successful teams moving on.
More games also presents a greater risk for injuries, and even more importantly, a conflict in a club’s schedule. This too will affect the league’s competitiveness because teams will have to jump from game to game, sometimes 2-3 in a single week, with less time allotted for preparation.
Less European Football for the More-or-Less Successful Clubs
By February of 2013, the Champions League will still have 16 clubs participating in the tournament. In the Europa League, there will be 32 clubs still in the running for the title. This adds to a total of 48 teams still participating in European Competitions midway into the season.
Suppose the Europa League is removed, and the Champions League will have a total of 64 teams participating in the group stages of the tournament. Considering it will be divided into 16 pools of 4 teams, that would cut that original number down to 32, a decline of 16 teams. Although this can be viewed in different ways, the fact is that every year, 16 teams will not be able to benefit from European competitions as they do today.
A Possible Shrink in Domestic Leagues
If the Champions League will become an even more influential factor in European football, domestic leagues may be pressured to shrink in size. With 64 teams participating in the Champions League, more focus would need to be allotted for the league, and it would overshadow these smaller leagues. More Champions League games would be played, meaning that more conflicts would arise with scheduling.
Sandro Rosell, president of Barcelona, feels that it is necessary to cut down the size of domestic leagues from 20 to 16 teams. By doing this, there would be more availability at the continental level, and teams could spend more time preparing for and playing Champions League games against Europe’s best clubs. Here is what Rosell said in an interview in 2011.
“The objective of reducing from 20 to 16 teams is to give more space to our players. We want a bigger Champions League and hope one day we could play perhaps Barcelona versus Manchester United on Saturdays. It’s something all of them would have to agree to. That includes the Premier League.”
Lesser Chance for Slightly Smaller Clubs to Obtain International Recognition
Now that the Europa League is possibly at the verge of extinction, we need to ask ourselves one question: What was the Europa League’s purpose all this time? The answer is for the slightly smaller but still successful clubs to obtain international recognition.
Many teams have begun their career at the European stage in the Europa League. For example, Atlético Madrid, Valencia, and Sevilla, which we would never imagine siting atop La Liga, have won 5 out of the last 9 Europa Leagues. These teams have the determination to become Europa League champions, but they lack the financial resources to accomplish the same feat in the Champions League.
A team makes a lot of money off of participating in the Champions League. Manchester Untied, who was eliminated in the group stage of the tournament last year, still managed to receive a generous $36 million from the Champions League. On the other hand, Atlético Madrid received only $11 million from the Europa League last year, despite being crowned Champions. If the Europa League were to give a bigger reward to teams who do well, we could see them doing better financially and eventually advancing toward the top of the Champions League.
If the Europa League is scrapped, though, then these slightly smaller teams will rarely have a chance to do well in the Champions League. They will easily be eliminated by the larger teams, like Real Madrid and Manchester City, and they will get no reward or recognition for it.
Despite all the negative effects of having a 64-team Champions League, the proposal has been met with mixed reactions from football fans all around the world. Some feel that the expansion of the Champions League would destroy its sole purpose as an elite league played by champions of domestic leagues, as do I. On the other hand, others believe it will add to the league’s competitiveness. Nothing has been decided yet, but one thing is for sure: If this change does come into effect, it could change the course of European football forever.