Last week, UEFA announced confirmation of changes which will be made to the competition’s format. Taking effect as of the beginning of next season, UEFA’s claims of 'evolving' the structure of the tournament may be little more than a way to bring further money into their already well-lined pockets.
Currently being sold through the media as being of great benefit to the team’s fighting to gain entry, more teams and more televised matches ultimately boil down to one simple thing.
What has traditionally been a working-class game could well be set to take yet another step away from the average fan.
While these changes are being heralded as a major overhaul in the Champions League competition, they can actually be simplified as two basic alterations. Below, we take a look at the real changes which are now in motion to take place after the summer.
The traditional kick-off time of 19:45 (all times shown as of the UK) will be no more. In its place as of next season, games will be split between either a 17:55 or a 20:00 start time.
The reasoning behind this is most likely to financial, with more games gaining exposure to TV audiences. Further to this, the earlier time slot also opens up the TV coverage to more foreign markets which again can bring more money into the competition for UEFA.
The knock-on effect to fans, however, is that they will potentially have to find their way to the stadium before 17:30 on a weekday. As well as the impracticalities of reaching the ground after work, this also means fans will have to contend with rush-hour traffic as they make their way to the game.
There are several amendments being made regarding qualification. However, there will still crucially be 32 teams in the tournament as of the group stages.
There will, however, be a larger group of teams set to battle it out for a place in this 32, up from the 79 clubs involved in the current competition to 85 next season. This means there will only be a break of 31 days between this season’s final and the first preliminary matches of next season’s tournament.
With the qualification process becoming more convoluted and taking in two separate routes to the hallowed ground of the last 32, this again sets up more revenue streams through extra matches and additional televised games.
But rather than adding to the competition, the changes will also safeguard passage into the competition proper (last 32) for more of the elite European sides.
All four top-ranked teams from England, Germany, Spain and Italy will now automatically qualify rather than the weaker side needing to navigate the playoffs. For Tottenham, who are currently in fourth place in the Premier League, this would mean they would not need to negotiate a tricky qualifying fixture to make their way into the competition.
There are cons, however: this move to place 26 rather than 22 of the top sides directly into the group stages will further sterilise the pool of clubs which compete year after year, a complaint by many during the earlier stages of this season who thought some of the sparkle was beginning to fade from the tournament.
This decision will be seen as a move to increase the overall quality in the competition, reducing the number of perceived “minnow” teams who can’t realistically compete against the European behemoths.
It can also be seen as a way of ensuring that the already financially dominant clubs retain a slice of the pie and prevent other club’s joining the ranks of these privileged few.
While there will definitely be four English clubs representing the English FA next season, irrespective of whether an English club lifts this season’s trophy, smaller associations will find it much harder to navigate their way to the lucrative main event.
For people wanting to watch a European League of only Europe’s elite clubs rather than a knock-out cup competition which this tournament once was, perhaps this is all good news.
But with less danger of change amongst the club’s currently enjoying a huge financial advantage over their domestic leagues, this could be seen as a step backwards.
While football has always been a sport which pits two teams of eleven players against each other on a level playing field, the cards are further stacking up in favour of the richest.
Whether on the pitch or in the stands, regular clubs and supporters will find it harder to enjoy this tournament next season.
Footballers and the governing authorities are often accused of being disconnected from the reality and the average fan. These steps appear to not only provide further evidence to this argument but move the Champions League into an even more elitist position.
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