A moment of truth awaits for Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin this week when he must stand up to European football’s most powerful clubs at Uefa Congress on Tuesday in Vienna and reject the proposal for their backdoor, anti-competitive, historical-performance-based, coefficient places in the Champions League.
A big week for Big Football, where the scars of last year’s Super League rebellion are still fresh. At stake is the future of the new Champions League from 2024 onwards, the supersized 36-team Swiss model with the proposal to grant admission for two sides via the dreaded Uefa coefficient. In other words, if Manchester United or Barcelona conspire to miss the four places offered to them by meritocratic league places, they might just secure them via another route – a fifth place finish or a Cup win.
The European Club Association (ECA) board meets on Monday under chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, also the president of those renowned champions of equality, Paris Saint-Germain. If the ECA refuses to budge on the two coefficient places then Ceferin faces the mother of all battles.
For the English clubs involved, the Football Association and the British government which has aligned itself to Uefa, this has the potential to become very awkward. While the Big Six, who invited all this government oversight with their Super League rebellion, seek to earn ever more from Uefa, it is a different story for the rest. Having endorsed the fan-led review of football by MP Tracey Crouch, the Government is now demanding that the Premier League hand over 25 per cent of its annual revenue to the Football League at the behest of its chairman Rick Parry.
No doubt there needs to be some smoothing of the Championship relegation cliff-edge but, as ever in football – for every action an unintended consequence. Who will take the greatest hit for Crouch’s redistribution? And who among them can see new, greater revenue streams ahead that will compensate them for the loss?
In a speech to the ECA in February, Al-Khelaifi forecasted a rise in revenue of 40 per cent for the post-2024 remodeled Champions League. It certainly softens the impact of the government-enforced wealth redistribution for Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. They can live with this deal: lose their share of a further eight per cent of Premier League revenue but gain 40 per cent in a European competition that might even come with a qualification safety net.
Sound familiar? It is a version of the Project Big Picture (PBP) proposal of October 2020 that saw the Big Six propose giving away a little to appease government and the EFL in return for a lot more down the line. Then they wanted an 18-team Premier League, greater voting power and more space in the fixture calendar to play in Europe. They proposed giving away a bit of their domestic revenue – and that of their less wealthy Premier League peers – in return for more money elsewhere and a lot more power. They lost out when a tide of public anger washed them off their feet. But the idea never went away. Here it is now, barely 18 months on, watered down, repackaged but essentially the same.
Who will feel the greatest effect from the 25 per cent redistribution to the EFL? Primarily that of the 14 outside the Big Six, and any other lesser light that seeks to join them. The Big Six are already looking at major leaps forward in Champions League earnings and on Monday they will gather to test Ceferin’s authority on the viability of the two coefficient places.
Yet even without the coefficient places, there is the potential in English football alone to create six super-clubs whose power will be such that there will be no more surprises in the Premier League. No more wins for Crystal Place at the Etihad or the many unfavorable sides that have gone to Old Trafford in recent years and prevailed.
A huge part of Uefa revenue is already distributed to clubs according to their Uefa coefficient. In short, if West Ham were to have qualified for next season’s Champions League they would have earned a fraction of the pot due to Chelsea or Liverpool because they had no history in the competition. The Crouch review proposes supporting Uefa competitions – an alliance between government and Uefa that grew out of the Super League rebellion. But the usefulness of that alliance depends on Uefa standing up to the very clubs that led the Super League.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.