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Villarreal oppose Champions League reform

Six of the other eight Spanish clubs on the European Association committee agreed.

Villarreal v Lille
Big European nights like this CL match at the Madrigal could become a thing of the past under UEFA’s plan.
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The Premier League came out strongly yesterday against UEFA’s plans to change the Champions League from 2024 onward, and now Spanish clubs have done so as well. In a joint statement, seven of the nine Spanish representatives to the ECA (European Association of clubs) have opposed UEFA’s plan. These teams are Villarreal, Athletic Club, Atlético de Madrid, Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Málaga.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are the other two Spanish sides in the ECA, and they seem to be okay with UEFA’s plan. No surprise, since it was developed by UEFA to keep clubs like those two from breaking away and forming some sort of European superleague.

Essentially UEFA’s plan would create a permanent group of elite teams with access to Champions League money. 32 teams would be in the group stage, as at present, but 24 would retain their CL status for the following season regardless of sporting merit. Of the other eight places, four would come via promotion in some fashion from the Europa League, while only four places would be reserved for champions of smaller leagues.

And the groups would be eight-team groups, not four. What this proposal would do would ensure that Barcelona, for example, get 14 CL matches, and probably all but two of these would come against teams that have a large fanbase (Manchester United, Inter MIlan, etc.). One of the main complaints the big clubs have is they end up playing teams like APOEL in the group stage, so attendance is poor. Well, that, and teams like Ajax (finished second in the Dutch league in 2017-18, so if this format were in place wouldn’t even BE in the CL) go about defeating the big boys.

It’s also revealing that UEFA is planning a third competition (tentatively called ‘Europa league 2’; I can’t wait to hear the anthem for that one) that would kick off in 2021-22, and by 2024-5 would involve—wait for it—64 teams playing in 4 divisions of 16 teams each. So a Spanish team involved in this nightmare would play 15 matches in this thing just to get to the knockout stages.

UEFA claims the proposals are open for ‘consultation’ over the next year, but the threat to La Liga is pretty clear. Granted, Barca and Madrid will make a ton of money from the new CL, but currently, it takes 12 games to get to the CL final, and those matches stretch over the entire season. With this proposal, those 14 group stage games would take place over the September-March period just as the current group stage (6 games), with the knockout rounds operating as before.

We already have cases where the integrity of the league competition is affected by European matches (the team Barca put out at Celta being a recent example). That will become intolerable if a club could play 21 matches should they reach the CL final, rather than the current 13. Especially if how one does in the league has no bearing on qualifying for next year’s CL, what is the incentive to field a strong team in the league?