Changes are very likely coming to the Champions League starting in 2018, and for once these changes are not likely to hurt Tottenham Hotspur.
Today, the Daily Mail reported that UEFA is set to vote this September on changes to Europe’s biggest club football competition that will reward the four biggest European football leagues with additional spots in the tournament in exchange for clubs agreeing not to split off to form their own European super-league. The proposals will be voted on later this month by UEFA’s executive committee.
The biggest change to the competition would change the qualification process to guarantee four Champions League spots for each of the top four European domestic leagues, currently Spain, Germany, England, and Italy. Gab Marcotti tweeted today that this is very likely to be confirmed by the committee.
From 2018-19, top 4 leagues will have 16 guaranteed spots in CL. UEFA ExCo to approve late August. Rich get richer. #onepercenters— Gabriele Marcotti (@Marcotti) August 15, 2016
However, those aren’t the only proposals being discussed. Other ideas that were floated included protected, unassailable qualification spots for some of the biggest clubs in Europe regardless of league finish, additional Champions League spots for clubs with “historical merit” who may not have qualified for the competition in their domestic league, and playing Champions League matches on Saturdays instead of during the week. Those changes aren’t likely to be adopted for 2018, but could be back on the table three years from now when the league can be modified again.
Marcotti couches this as a blatant cash-grab by the richest of Europe’s football clubs at the expense of everybody else, and he’s absolutely right. From an equity standpoint, these changes would help solidify the stranglehold that the big four leagues already have on the UCL, and that would come at the expense of clubs in smaller leagues such as Ajax, Besiktas, Porto, and Basel, who might now get shunted into qualification rounds instead of having an automatic berth.
However, put your blue-and-white-tinted Tottenham Hotspur glasses on, and this is a good development. Spurs are a club that is on the cusp of qualifying for the Champions League every year, and they play in an excellent league. However, they probably won’t qualify every season due to the extremely high quality of its competition. While four guaranteed Champions League spots isn’t so different than what they have now (three group stage spots plus a playoff spot), it instantly eliminates the hovering specter of England falling in the UEFA coefficient and losing one of its spots to Italy or France. Protected Champions League places for England is good for Spurs.
You can also (cynically I might add) argue that reducing the number of minnows in the Champions League would strengthen the competition as a whole, making it more difficult and, hence, more prestigious.
Now, if you start adding in extras, like the odious “historical merit” inclusion, which would give a qualification spot to an underachieving club like Liverpool or Manchester United based on its past history in the competition, it quickly starts becoming a heck of a lot less good for Spurs. But if you believe Marcotti, those things are going to be tabled, at least for now.
Even so, compare that to the alternative: keeping things as they are now, and the richest clubs in Europe breaking away and forming their own closed European super-league. It is extremely unlikely that any path forward that leads to a super-league would include Tottenham Hotspur, no matter how new stadiums they build or how much their transfer budget increases. Spurs would almost certainly not have a seat at that table, leaving a revamped Europa League (or something similar) as the only recourse.
The idea of retooling the Champions League to make it even more insular and lucrative for the elites of world football is slightly abhorrent to me on a personal level, but if the alternative is creating a true football plutocracy (and Tottenham remaining on the outside of it), then I’d rather have a system in place where Spurs at least have a chance to qualify.