Column: Champions League revamp gain for Super League rebels

Apr 5, 2022, 9:23 PM | Updated: Apr 6, 2022, 1:43 pm
Liverpool's Ibrahima Konate, 2nd right, celebrates with team mates after scoring his side's opening...

Liverpool's Ibrahima Konate, 2nd right, celebrates with team mates after scoring his side's opening goal during the Champions League quarterfinals, first leg, soccer match between Benfica and Liverpool at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

LONDON (AP) — Remember when the power and influence of Europe’s wealthiest clubs was going to be tamed by the collapse of the Super League rebellion?

It was only a year ago. Yet, a partial revolution shaped by the elite is still coming to European football.

Perhaps in the spirit of avoiding further fractures, UEFA has not exploited any leverage it had over the rebellious clubs to reshape the Champions League to re-tilt the balance of power away from them, however slightly.

If anything, the wealthiest clubs will be able to spend even more after the replacement for Financial Fair Play is approved by UEFA’s executive committee on Thursday. And if they miss out on the Champions League through their domestic league placing, a safety net of qualification for two heavyweights has been provided from 2024 based on their historic record.

Just look to Spain to see how much of a difference being in the Champions League can make for a club. Sevilla earned a total of 34.6 million euros ($38 million) from winning the Europa League in 2020 but could have generated at least twice that from just from a mediocre Champions League campaign. The same season saw Valencia bank 60.8 million euros ($66 million) from reaching the Champions League last 16.

From 2024, playing in the Champions League will involve more games that could test the interest of fans.

What appetite is there for a new-look group stage based around a single standings, growing from 32 to 36 teams and 10 rather than six games each?

Only eight teams will qualify automatically for the round of 16. But even finishing 24th out of 36 will secure entry into the 16-team playoff round, removing much of the jeopardy from later matches. It’s another safeguard against failure that allows a leading club to mess up in the group stage and still have a path into the knockout rounds.

UEFA did not seize the opportunity to scale back the enlargement in the wake of the Super League debacle. The domestic leagues hoping for eight group-stage games were rebuffed. All the talk of UEFA reconsidering the historic merit places — that would have allowed Arsenal to return to the Champions League this season — has been repelled, although they won’t be ratified at Thursday’s meeting.

UEFA will see the reshaping of the Champions League as integral to growing the value of its most lucrative commercial and broadcasting asset, and fending off future breakaway attempts.

Other changes are being characterized as reacting to the perceived improved financial sustainability of clubs after a decade of FFP by introducing a new regulatory system around squad cost controls and a football earnings rule that doesn’t constrain spending as heavily.

According to a document shared among Spanish clubs that was seen by The Associated Press, allowable losses will double to 60 million euros ($65 million) over three years. But clubs deemed to be in “good financial health” will be permitted additional losses of 10 million euros per year.

Rather than introducing a wage cap, teams will have spending on salaries on players and coaches, transfers and agent fees capped at 70% of revenue by the 2025-26 season after being phased in at 90% and 80% in the previous two seasons.

Sporting sanctions could see a team docked points or relegated from the Champions League. Fines are set to be based on how much the spending limits are exceeded by. Being 0 to 10% over in the first season could see clubs docked between 10 and 25% of their UEFA income. But by the fourth season of enforcement, 75% to 100% of that prize money and TV cash could be deducted for breaching the threshold by the same amount.

By contrast, clubs 65% below the spending limit could see the fines redistributed among them.

One significant figure is on board. Javier Tebas, the president of the Spanish league, has spent years railing against the investment in Manchester City from Abu Dhabi and from Qatar into Paris Saint-Germain.

“This is a historic moment,” Tebas said, “implementing squad spending limits at European level for the first time and demanding that operations be market based, countering the destructive inflationary effect of state-owned clubs.”

City and PSG are yet to win the Champions League, though. Keeping check on the value of the sponsorships linked to their ownership will be crucial to the integrity of any regulation linked to income.

PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was one of the big winners to emerge from the Super League shambles after rejecting becoming the 13th founding member and emerging from the wreckage to lead the European Club Association.

There seems to be more trust between UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin and Al-Khelaifi than with his predecessor at the ECA, Andrea Agnelli.

Ceferin has shown he is willing to work collaboratively with the leading clubs and leagues rather than acting in the duplicitous manner of Agnelli, who had settled on a new format for the Champions League with UEFA last April before flouncing off to launch his own largely-closed rival competition.

All Agnelli looks to have lost is his role as ECA chairman and his seat on the UEFA executive committee that rubber-stamps decisions.

The Champions League concessions Agnelli helped craft — and negotiated in bad faith last year — are coming anyway. Even as Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to threaten a Super League.

European football harmony has been prioritized by UEFA over an assertion of control over the clubs. The search for competitive balance goes on.

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Rob Harris is at https://twitter.com/RobHarris

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Column: Champions League revamp gain for Super League rebels