Recent press reports suggest that UEFA are considering a merger of the current Champions League and Europa League formats.
The competitions have gone through a fair bit of change over the years. When the Champions League was created in 1992 it was consisting of only 8 teams in its first year, all of those teams being Champions and represented in the UK by Leeds United who went on to the semi finals that year. Alongside the Champions League was the Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA Cup. Three competitions that eventually produced an expanded Champions League, the disbanding of the Cup Winners Cup , and then the rebranding of the UEFA Cup into what is now known as the Europa League.
The problem i have had with the expanded Champions League format is that the competition has actually moved along way from being a League of Champions.As demand from TV companies in the early years for guaranteed participation of top teams grew, UEFA modified the competition allowing up to the top 4 teams from the key “TV” markets to qualify, producing an expanded format with 32 teams, 2 qualifying stages and greater revenue for the clubs.
The Europa League meantime was designed to create a Champions League “marque2” and has done well to secure big name sponsors in its short existence with SEAT cars and Western Union. The Europa League none the less has its place and fans understand its second tier European football.
If UEFA are serious about plans to merge the two competitions into a super European format then i think this comes with huge problems for UEFA. It will mean extended group stage formats that create tedium during the drawn out fixture list and it will devalue the entire format in the minds of fans and TV companies. IN many ways it is verging towards the European League that has been mooted for many years. Time and time again the clubs know this is not the right format – Man Utd versus Barcelona once every few months is a fantastic night of European football but played every other week then it loses its spark.
I think UEFA should be going back in time to find the right format. The most memorable games and fan excitement comes from knock out football, when everything rests on single match formats. This is unlikely to happen because it wont keep the TV companies happy or keep the revenue flowing but merging the current competitions – at what cost UEFA?
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