The UEFA Executive Committee announced today, at their meeting in Dublin, that a new 32-team competition will begin in 2021. The competition, with a working title of ‘UEL2’, will mirror the 32-team format of the Champions League and Europa League.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin noted that “inclusive competition means more matches for more clubs and more associations.” This mirrors a clear initiative that UEFA have already followed to make tournament football more inclusive, which they started by expanding Euro 2016.
UEFA Set to Launch New 32-Club European Competition in 2021
What Will it Entail?
The new competition seems to sit below the Europa League, as a chance for more federations across Europe to play regular competitive European football. By 2021, at least 34 countries will be represented in all UEFA club competitions. Currently, the minimum guaranteed number is 26. European football federations will keep the same overall access quota as they do now.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin said: “The new UEFA club competition makes UEFA’s club competitions more inclusive than ever before. There will be more matches for more clubs, with more associations represented in the group stages. This competition was borne out of ongoing dialogue with clubs through the European Club Association.
The competition will be played on the same Thursdays as the 2021 Europa League. It will utilise an additional earlier kick-off time, much like the Champions League has this season. There will be 141 matches over 15 match weeks.
There will be an additional knock-out round played before the traditional round of 16. This will be between teams ranked second in their groups and the third-ranked teams in each of the Europa League groups. The winner of UEL2 will be able to participate in the following season’s Europa League.
All UEFA club competition finals will still be played in the same week, with the new final taking place on the Wednesday.
UEFA ExCo approved the creation of a new club competition for 2021-24.
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin: “The new UEFA club competition makes UEFA’s club competitions more inclusive than ever before.”
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— UEFA (@UEFA) December 2, 2018
Will it Work?
Of course, increasing opportunities for clubs from smaller federations to compete in UEFA competition is an admirable aim. However, another bloated competition similar to the Europa League might not be the best solution. There are two reasons behind this.
Firstly, the quality of the lower-ranked Europa League teams can be distinctly poor. Only five of the twelve current teams that are bottom of each Europa League group have won a match. The gap between those and the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Lazio, Villarreal and Milan is already a cavernous one.
So why is introducing a competition with 32 teams conceivably worse than them a good idea? Introducing a new competition is not inherently a bad proposal. But why not slim down the Europa League, and maybe even the Champions League, thus spreading European quality across three competitions?
Secondly, the access route in the UEL2 suffers from the same problem that the Europa League often faces. Europa League teams can drop down into it. Assuming the gap between the current Europa League and UEL2 is larger than between the Europa League and Champions League, this presents a real problem for those lesser teams.
Those who finish second in their group will have to face the Europa League third-placed teams in a knock-out round. Presumably, not many of them will get through that test. Why not isolate the three competitions? If you finish third in your group, you’re out. Let teams elsewhere have their shot.