Brendan Rodgers has urged Uefa not to slam the Champions League door in the face of Celtic as European football’s governing body get set to unveil major changes to their flagship tournament.
The Uefa executive committee are expected to accede to demands, led by European Club Association president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, for the top four clubs from the top four nations in the rankings – currently Spain, England, Germany and Italy – to go directly into the lucrative group stage of the Champions League every year.
The changes, which would begin from the 2018-19 season, are likely to be formalised by Uefa at their next executive committee meeting in Athens on 14 and 15 September.
It would mean half of the 32 spots in the group stage would be taken up by clubs from the top four nations. It is not yet clear how Uefa will structure the qualifying phase of the tournament for their remaining 51 member nations.
Scotland’s champions currently face three qualifying rounds to reach the group stage. Celtic, who have missed out in the past two seasons, tonight face the first leg of their play-off round tie against Israeli champions Hapoel Beer-Sheva in Glasgow.
As Rodgers attempts to take them through at his first attempt, he has insisted Uefa must ensure a fair system remains in place for clubs of Celtic’s size to try to secure their place in the elite European tournament each year.
“I can understand the powers-that-be want those clubs [from the top four countries] to be in there,” said the former Liverpool manager.
“But Celtic has the right to be in there. If we are fighting for it and are the champions of our country, then we have every right to be in there.
“For European football, they need the big clubs in there. But Celtic is a big club, a huge club. The competition is a better place for clubs such as Celtic and Ajax, for example – teams with great history in the European Cup and Champions League.
“It’s not just for our club, it is for the opposition as well because for them to come to Celtic Park in the Champions League is an experience many great players over the years have spoken about. It is one of the best experiences they have ever had.
“So European football deserves Celtic at the top table. Okay, there obviously has to be conditions for them [the other clubs] to get there as well. I understand and respect the money in England and elsewhere. I was a part of it for a number of years. I see where that’s at.
“But surely it’s not all about the money. It’s also about the prestige and there has to be a door open – and a door open wide enough – for the type of clubs like Celtic and the great historical clubs of European football.”
Rodgers admits the proposed restructuring of the tournament provides an added incentive for Celtic to return to the group stage this season and prove they add value to it.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “There are many reasons why we want to be in there. It helps us in our standing as a nation here in Scotland.
“For us, we see it as an obligation as a big club to try and make that step. That hopefully gives more power and pride back into the nation here. We accept that responsibility as a great club.”