Champions League plan: 10 games to reach the group stage

Uefa will consider plans by so-called 'major' clubs to revamp the Champions League, leaving the Scottish champions facing ten games to reach a new-style group stage.

Big clubs like Barcelona would play 14 group matches under the latest leaked Champions League proposals.  Picture: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Big clubs like Barcelona would play 14 group matches under the latest leaked Champions League proposals. Picture: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The European governing body is under mounting pressure from the top clubs to re­form the competition in order to protect their continued involvement.

The proposed changes would result in a league format of two groups of eight clubs replacing the current group stage which consists of eight groups of four clubs. The league system would guarantee top clubs a minimum of 14 matches.

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There would be at least one more knock­out round in order to eliminate the perceived weaker teams before the group stage, as the major clubs argue there are too many irrelevant ties which devalue the competition.

The furore over the Champions League restructuring was sparked when representatives from the major English clubs including Chelsea, who will not qualify for next year’s competition, were pictured leaving a meeting with American billionaire Stephen Ross and Relevant Sports chairman Charlie Stillitano at the Dorchester Hotel, London.

The meeting, at which the idea of a European Super League was discussed, was attended by Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck, Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis, Manchester City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano and Liverpool’s Ian Ayre.

Despite initial claims to the contrary, Stillitano confirmed that “restructuring the Champions League” was discussed. The aim of restructuring the competition would protect the participation of the world’s most popular clubs and nullify the threat of the underdogs such as Leicster City.

“What would Manchester United argue: did we create soccer or did Leicester create [it]?” Stillitano said in a recent interview.

“Let’s call it the money pot created by soccer and the fandom around the world. Who has had more of an integral role, Manchester United or Leicester? It’s a wonderful, wonderful story [Leicester’s rise] – but you could see it from Manchester United’s point of view, too.

“Maybe that [Leicester being in the Champions League] is absolutely spectacular unless you are a Manchester United fan, Liverpool fan… or a Chelsea fan.’’

The meeting was scheduled to primarily discuss the International Champions Cup (ICC) tournament, which Ross’ company Relevant Sports 

The pre-season tournament involves the most popular clubs in the world and Stillitano suggested that it is already more prestigious than the existing Champions League and that Uefa are eager to be involved.

Celtic, despite their continued objection to Champions League reconstruction, have recently announced their involvment in this summer’s ICC and will have to postpone a domestic league match in order to take part.

The Scottish champions currently enter the Champions League at the second qualifying round stage and must defeat three teams to reach the lucrative group stage. But the proposed changes would leave Scottish sides facing ten games before they qualify for a 16-team group stage.

Celtic were defeated by Swedish side Malmö in the play-off round of this year’s competition. There is a massive financial incentive to qualify for the group stage as it is worth an estimated £20 million to clubs.

Uefa is likely to succumb to the pressure of the major clubs, tacitly admitting that the competition is not as successful commercially as it should be. There is an acceptance from clubs in Germany, Spain and Italy that the Champions League has fallen behind the English PremierLeague in terms of revenue.

The new £8 billion television deal from which the Premier League clubs will benefit next season has sparked great envy among European rivals.

Even the lowest Premier League sides will generate revenue of around £150m next season, a figure three times larger than the £40/50m awarded to the Champions League winners.