Despite many clubs and international managers in the world of football complaining about having to play too many games, a new European club competition is to be introduced in 2021. Entitled the Europa Conference League, it will be a third-tier UEFA club competition and give more clubs in more countries a chance to participate in Europe.
Well, that was how the tournament was described by UEFA secretary, Aleksander Ceferin, at the organisation’s executive committee meeting in Ljubljana. Confirmed last December and ratified in September, the Europa Conference League will sit below the Champions League and Europa League in the hierarchy of competitions and will consist of 32 teams that will be split into eight groups of four.
The winners of the Europa Conference League will be entered into the following season’s Europa League, with games played on Thursday’s with kick-offs at 5.45pm and 8pm UK time.
However, cynics might think that this new competition is little more than a concession to keep European football’s smaller clubs happy that they are playing in Europe, whilst ensuring the wealthiest clubs simply continue to qualify for the Champions League.
National associations will be left to decide the criteria for earning a place, with England, Spain, France, Italy and Germany getting one spot each. England’s will go to the winners of next season’s Carabao Cup, but if that team end up qualifying for Europe by other means, the place will be determined by Premier League position.
UEFA has also announced that the Europa League group stages will be reduced from 48 teams to 32 from 2021, so from that point only nations ranked 15th or higher in UEFA’s coefficient table will be granted access to the Europa League. League winners of countries with a lesser ranking will still enter Champions League qualifying, but they seem likely to drop into the Europa Conference League should they fail to make the group stages, rather than the Europa League.
However, all available evidence suggests that having to juggle a European campaign with a domestic campaign has an adverse effect on domestic results. In recent years, teams from outside the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ have suffered in the following seasons of having qualified for Europe.
Between them, Burnley, Everton, Southampton, and West Ham acquired 60 points fewer in the seasons immediately following European qualification, so there is an obvious impact on clubs with smaller budgets and stretched squads.
Qualifying for Europe’s second-tier competition affects any chance these clubs have of kicking on and attempting to qualify for the Champions League the following season, but this is something that UEFA and clubs at the top of the Premier League will find entirely OK as they can continue to pursue their insatiable quest for wealth.
Although this new competition will ensure more clubs than ever get to experience European competition, it seems clear it will only tighten the stranglehold of the rich clubs from England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.