UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin countered “negative energy” from critics of any Champions League overhaul that could lock in places by defending the need to be “constantly thinking about improving” European competitions.
Leagues across the continent – particularly Spain’s La Liga – fear their competitions would be damaged if UEFA pursued a concept to create a largely closed-off Champions League where 24 out of 32 teams are guaranteed automatic qualification the following season regardless of where they finish in their domestic leagues.
“We have the best competition in the world by far, for now we don’t know when or if any changes to our competition will be made,” Ceferin told The Associated Press. “So the ones who criticize every day should start taking care of football in their own countries. I am not sure if there’s nothing to criticize.
“We just agreed to continue one more cycle (of European competitions) 2021-24 without changing anything. UEFA is a very dynamic organization and always has to explore if and how our competitions can get better. We are constantly thinking about improving. The reason that you’re the best doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get better.”
As part of a broad consultation process, Ceferin is willing to study any concept from the European Leagues organization for UEFA’s three competitions, including the Europa League 2 which begins in 2021.
But the concept that is embraced by the elite clubs was presented to the leagues, including La Liga President Javier Tebas, in a private meeting on Wednesday at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
“We were attacked even before the first meeting and we thought for a while that any consultation process is not appreciated by some of the stakeholders,” Ceferin said. “It’s perfectly clear to me that we are not just a stakeholder, we are the governing body of European football and we have to safeguard all European football. But I don’t like secret meetings. I don’t like to hide things from the stakeholders. That’s why we started the discussion so early.
“Maybe we shouldn’t do it after we see all the negative energy, hostility, false solidarity coming out.”
Ceferin and the European Club Association were irked by Tebas hosting a meeting on Tuesday in Madrid of clubs and leagues to amass opposition to any significant changes to the format of European competitions. The AP reported Friday from a recording of Wednesday’s meeting with leagues that Ceferin hit out at suggestions he was “killing football” by looking at ideas that include enlarging a new third competition to 64 teams.
A Champions League concept, which has been seen by the AP, would introduce promotion and relegation to the Champions League that would help to lock in guaranteed slots for elite clubs.
Four Champions League teams would be relegated each season into the next season’s second-tier Europa League. They would be replaced by the Europa League semifinalists, who would be promoted.
From the 2024-25 group stage, 24 of the 32 teams could retain their places the following season regardless of their domestic league finish.
Countries could be limited to five representatives, retaining the current limit that allows the top four in England, Germany, Spain and Italy to qualify alongside a Champions League winner from those countries which didn’t make the domestic top four.
National champions would only get four qualifying places to compete in preliminary rounds.
The changes would reduce the possibility of this season’s Champions League finalists repeating the feat under any revamp unless they were already in the competition.
Liverpool last won the English league in 1990 and Tottenham triumphed in 1961 – long before UEFA expanded Champions League entry beyond domestic champions in 1997.
While Liverpool is a five-time European champion, Tottenham has now made its first final in its fourth-ever season in the Champions League since 2010, having only previously played in the European Cup in the 1961-62 campaign.
Both teams relied on dramatic second-leg comebacks to reach the June 1 final in Madrid, while English rivals Arsenal and Chelsea made the Europa League final on May 29.
“This season’s Champions League and Europa League semifinals shows that those are by far the best club competitions in the world,” Ceferin said. “Exciting matches, fantastic football and thrilling ends. At the same time there’s a lot of hostility in the media from some stakeholders about an idea for changing the competition.”
Ceferin was still president of the Slovenian federation when the last significant changes were made to the Champions League, just before his Sept. 2016 elevation to the UEFA leadership. At the time, Ceferin denounced a secret deal that saw Spain, Germany, England and Italy exert influence over UEFA to gain 16 of the 32 Champions League group-stage places.
“In 2016, there was no consultation process and changes were made without consulting the stakeholders,” Ceferin said. “Now we even don’t propose any changes yet but we have already started to consult and share the ideas.”