Power grab by top European clubs
Uefa will guarantee more places for clubs from Europe's top football leagues in the Champions League, in a power shift towards the wealthiest teams. The move, which follows threats from rich clubs to create a breakaway competition, will ensure more places for teams from Europe's largest television markets, but to the detriment of smaller nations.
From the 2018-19 season the top four leagues in Europe - currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy - will be guaranteed four places each in the Champions League group stages. Under the existing system the top three teams receive three guaranteed spots plus a chance for an additional team to qualify.
The changes would mean that there will be fewer places available for teams from the rest of Europe, although the details will only be available later this year. There has been a long-term shift away from the smaller European nations, so that teams like Ajax, which were once major European players, are now in the shadows, having missed out on the group stage altogether this year.
Such had been the nature of the threats from some of the bigger clubs that the concessions that were granted were almost greeted with relief. There had been calls for 'wild card' places for any commercially successful club that fell short of qualification, backed up by the perennial threat of a breakaway 'Super League'.
The idea of an 'Atlantic League' for smaller European nations, which I first remember hearing about some fifteen years ago, is being floated once again. This would be a 'B' list competition for the likes of Scotland, Belgium and the Netherlands, although where it would stand in relation to the Europa League is unclear.
I am also never clear why it is referred to as an 'Atlantic League', as American teams would not be involved. It would be more of a North Sea league than anything, but those grey and windswept waters don't make for a marketable brand.
In any event two years ago Celtic, PSV Eindhoven, Anderlecht and Legia Warsaw among others set up a working group to tackle the issue of 'inequality', both between major nations and the smaller nations, as well as within smaller nations. What the answer would be is unclear, as so much is driven by television money.
The changes being made by Uefa are an attempt to boost the appeal of the Champions League to broadcasters who want to stage matches involving the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. All the Premier League clubs will earn at least £100m this year from the latest broadcasting deal, but only three teams outside England earned that much in 2013-14: Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid.
The chief football correspondent of The Times, Oliver Kay, gave it large to these proposals in Saturday's edition under the headline 'Greedy European elite stitching up once mighty clubs.' He complained about 'the domination of European football by a small group of rich, immensely powerful, commercially obsessed clubs from Spain, Germany, England and Italy.'