UEFA Champions League future formations

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UEFA Champions League future formations

The UEFA Champions League or ‘European Premier League’?

With the big clubs threatening to start their own breakaway league, what will happen to the Champions League? Rumoured to be called the “European Premier League”, it could spell the end of the UEFA Champions League. Ultimately I think this is just a lot of posturing on behalf of the world’s top clubs. A proposal like this would never get off the ground and for good reason.

FIFA will ban players from ‘European Premier League’

FIFA announced they would ban any player from this competition from playing in FIFA sanctioned tournaments, like the World Cup. It appears we have a standoff between the richest clubs of the world, and soccer’s largest governing bodies. So what will this posturing lead us to in the future of world football’s highest level elite competition?

UEFA Champions League group stage meaningless games

There are issues Europe’s top clubs have with the footballing calendar, and how it’s set up now. Their main problem is playing too many meaningless games against clubs far below their level of competition. None of the big clubs want to bother travelling to Eastern Europe or Scandinavia in December. These are often meaningless games, against smaller clubs destined for the Europa League.

Wealth inequality in top-class European football

Since the inception of the English Premier League in the early 1990s, wealth inequality between clubs has widened substantially. Resulting in the wealthiest clubs buying up all the top footballing talent from around the world. The same big clubs have a lock on all the Champions League qualifying positions. This has been happening throughout Europe’s top leagues over the last couple of decades and has greatly changed the whole dynamic of the Champions League.

Do smaller clubs even have a chance to become European champions?

In 1991 it was possible for a club like Red Star Belgrade to win the European Cup. However, in today’s economic climate, this would be nearly impossible. The best teams from smaller European countries can only hope to qualify, rather than win the Champions League. The biggest clubs from Europe’s top leagues all have yearly payrolls in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Top-flight European football is truly a billionaire’s game.

Billion-dollar payrolls for top world football clubs

If the pandemic hadn’t slowed down the world economy, it’s likely the yearly payroll for Barcelona and Real Madrid would have topped a billion dollars. The top clubs in Europe are using their wealth to buy up all the best footballers from around the world. This leaves smaller clubs trying to compete with them in the UEFA Champions League, at a huge disadvantage. Imagine if money weren’t driving the success of the greatest clubs in the world. How much more fairly and equitably would the talent be spread out between competing clubs around the planet.

Consolidation of elite world footballers for a better entertainment product

Despite its over-commercialization, and consolidation of the best talent being driven towards the same big clubs; soccer has become more popular than ever. On a recent list of the world’s highest-paid athletes, the top three are soccer players. Compare that to the 1990s, when none of the world’s top 10 paid athletes played soccer. Having the world’s greatest players on the field at the same time competing against each other gives us the best quality entertainment product possible. That’s exactly why the big clubs want to break away and start their own exclusive league.

A closed competition

The 18 club “European Premier League”, would play without a system of promotion or relegation. This would secure the position of the wealthiest clubs in the top echelon of world football indefinitely. Every match would be a compelling fixture, amplified through having these matches on the weekends. This would certainly draw attention away from every domestic league in Europe. And having European Football on the weekends, (instead of midweek as the Champions League games are now) would create an extremely valuable sponsorship and advertising opportunity.

FIFA rebuttal of the ‘European Premier League’

FIFA however, issued a strong rebuttal to this proposal in a press release issued on January 21. “The universal principles of sporting merit, solidarity, promotion and relegation, and subsidiary are the foundations of the football pyramid that ensures football’s global success and are, as such, enshrined in the FIFA and confederation statutes. Football has a long and successful history thanks to these principles. Participation in global and continental competitions should always be won on the pitch.” That statement is hard to argue against. The very fabric of the sport could be ripped away through the creation of a “European Premier League”.

Where should elite European football go from here?

European super-clubs will compromise

Ultimately I believe there will be a compromise, and we will see more of what the big clubs want. They want more games against other big European clubs, and less against smaller clubs. So the question is how will this be done? With FIFA stating they will ban any player participating in a competition like this, we need another option. And that is to alter the current Champions League format to get a more desired result.

The current composition of the UEFA Champions League

Presently, there are 32 teams that qualify for the group stage competition, comprising eight groups of four clubs. Kicking off in September and ending in early December, each team plays a total of six matches. This format has each team in the group hosting the other teams once and visiting the other teams once. Automatic qualification is granted for 26 clubs straight into the group stage. The other six clubs must win their spot through a qualification round.

Adding more UEFA Champions League games

With an already congested match schedule, the best way to add more games into the Champions League group stage is to eliminate games from domestic competitions. Perhaps we could have all five of Europe’s top domestic leagues agree to drop down to 18 clubs from 20. The German Bundesliga already does this.

Lowering the number of UEFA Champions League clubs

Instead of 32 clubs in the Champions League, they could drop that number down to 30. We could then have five groups of six teams each. Every club in the competition would have four extra group stage games. To accommodate the extra fixtures, the big domestic leagues could agree on playing four fewer games. That would be done by eliminating two teams each from the English, Spanish, Italian and French leagues.

More English and Spanish clubs in the UEFA Champions League

We could have one team from every group represented by an English club and a Spanish club. That would make five automatic qualifiers from the Premier League and La Liga. We could have four automatic qualifiers from Germany and Italy, and three automatic qualifiers from France.

Change the qualification coefficient

Based on how the coefficient works right now for the 2021-2022 Champions League, Portugal will get two automatic qualifiers. Russia, Belgium, Ukraine and Netherlands will each get one automatic qualifier. The way it stands now we have six clubs enter the competition through a summer playoff competition. That could be reduced to five, then every group only has one club qualify that way. The other 25 spots would be qualified automatically, based on performance in their domestic league.

Higher quality competition for UEFA’s biggest football clubs

A change like this would definitely ramp up the quality of competition in the Champions League. As a result, there would be more games between clubs in Europe’s big five leagues in the group stage. It would also heighten competition in the top five domestic leagues, with fewer games against lower-level clubs.

Keep the knockout stage format with reduction of group stage clubs

We could still have 16 teams qualify for the knockout stage, as it is now. However, the top three clubs from each group would go through, as well as one wild card spot. I could also see the big clubs pushing hard to reduce the competition to four groups of seven for a total of 28 clubs. With fewer clubs, it would make an even more highly competitive competition. An even amount of teams from each group going through to the knockout stage would make more sense. However, I like the idea of having five English and Spanish teams qualify. The Premier League and La Liga Clubs, are usually the strongest in the competition. And I don’t like the idea of having teams from the same country playing against each other in the group stage.

Groups of 10 in the UEFA Champions League?

Another Champions League proposal I have heard recently is to have three groups of 10 or 11 clubs. This would have every team play the other teams in the group only once, rather than home and away. In this proposal, all the big clubs could be grouped together, allowing for some very big group stage matches. It’s a possibility this is where the Champions League is headed. Perhaps this would be a bridge towards one of the ideas I listed earlier.


Whichever way things settle out over the next few years; we are definitely in store for some changes to the world’s top international club competition. The big clubs will be pushing hard for more games against top-level clubs. They hope it will lead to more advertising and sponsorship revenue. FIFA will continue to uphold the principles of solidarity, promotion, relegation and open leagues. Principles that are vital to the history and integrity of the world’s greatest sporting competition.

Your thoughts?

Do you have any other ideas as to how things will look for the future of the UEFA Champions League? Post your ideas to Twitter using #UEFAChampions league and @topworldfootball.

Nathan Holowaty @topworldfootball

About the Author /

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Nathan Holowaty is a writer and blogger, with a passion for everything soccer-related. He is a lifelong soccer player and fan, helping to grow the sport in a positive manner. Nathan began working on Top World Football in early 2021.

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