European football club chiefs have defended proposals to give more Champions League places to historically successful teams, saying they are “fair, add value and make sense”.
The changes are set to take effect from 2024, when the competition’s group stage expands from 32 to a single 36-team league. Under plans approved by leading clubs, two of the four extra spots will go to teams who narrowly missed out on qualification but have a high coefficient score, which is based on performances in Europe over the past five seasons.
Critics have said that qualification based on coefficients will only tip the balance of power further in favour of the biggest clubs. In response, the latest proposals stipulate that those teams who enter via coefficient must be the next best placed team in their domestic league, and not leapfrog a less historically successful rival that finishes above them.
“When you add the domestic performance to it, there is no leapfrogging, it’s fair, it adds value and overall if you look at the total picture it makes sense,” said Aki Riihilahti, chief executive of HJK Helsinki and board member of the European Club Association (ECA).
The ECA, a representative body comprising more than 240 teams, has helped to draw up the changes to the Champions League with governing body Uefa.
Riihilahti, a former midfielder for Finland who also played for Crystal Palace, pointed to the increased number of teams from smaller nations that will make it to the main stage of Uefa competitions including the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League under the new format.
“As a smaller country champion I was very OK with the whole thing. It’s very much to my heart that we have a lot of associations playing in the group stages, which we will, actually.
“In the new format there will be a minimum of 33, with a potential 37, countries playing in the group stages. That’s so much more than it’s ever been before.”