“The clear winners of the UEFA reform are the biggest leagues”

How will the big UEFA reform in 2024 change the landscape of international football? And what will it mean for the clubs in Switzerland? UEFA expert David Parkes gives us a deep insight about the drastic changes to come.

UEFA still hasn’t released the access list for the 2024-27 UEFA club competition cycle. Do you have any inside info you can share with us?

DAVID PARKES: Yes, so a day after UEFA officially made their press release on the changes to the UEFA club competitions from 2024, I got in touch with a contact of mine on the access list, where I was fortunate enough to receive it.

Since the access list has not officially been released, I cannot publish it. However, I can give you some information from looking at it. UEFA has done quite a job in ensuring that everyone is, to a certain extent, happy.

What are the most important changes?

There are several changes to the status quo, some already known, others not. For instance, we already know about the fact that at least 37 national associations will be represented across the league phases (LP) starting in 2024. That is an increase of four as to now. Furthermore, there will be at least 33 cup winners that will now have a chance to qualify for the Europa League main round, more than double versus now.

Other lesser facts that have been confirmed is under the scenario where the Europa League title holder also qualifies for the Champions League league phase domestically, the vacated place will now be another qualifying spot via the non-champions path from qualifying. That will now allow three teams to make the Champions League main tournament from that route instead of just two.

Finally, the qualifying rounds for Champions League and Europa League have both seen considerable changes as a result of the reforms. Of course, with 12 extra league phase places given across the three competitions, this was inevitable. Outside of my point earlier about the cup winners, there are not too many changes to qualifying for the Europa Conference League.

“It is possible that we could end up seeing 75% of the 36 Champions League spots go to just 6 countries.”

David Parkes

The reform planned for the 2024/25 season will allow for more teams to participate in UCL, UEL and UECL. Which nations will benefit the most from it? The big ones or the small ones?

This is a good question. I am currently doing a three-part article series for Breaking The Lines where I discuss in length aspects about the 2024/25 reforms. I am working on the last part which should be released sometime this week. That article will in part cover this very question.

What I will say is that everyone won in some way regarding the reforms, both the bigger leagues and the smaller ones. I would say from the outlook that the ‘Big 5’ leagues won the most on this, with the sub-topper leagues becoming the second biggest benefactors.

Now, I doubt anyone will argue with me on the former, especially seeing that three of the four new Champions League places will effectively go to the ‘Big 5’ leagues year on year. That equals more money for those clubs and a guarantee of a larger share of the prize pool.

In fact, it is possible that we could end up seeing 75% of the 36 Champions League LP spots go to just 6 countries. Let that sink in. So yes, there is one clear winner here, and those are the biggest leagues.

Switzerland is currently 15th in the UEFA country ranking at the start of the season. Which rank is crucial to reach for us? Will there be a hard cut between 15th and the rest like now?

In part two of my article series I mentioned previously, I talked about the major positions up for grabs going into 2024. Of course, I brought up Switzerland as, like you said, they will be starting this coming season in 15th.

As for what rank will be crucial, I would say the aim is to at least maintain the status quo of 15th. I would also note that there will be a highly intriguing and also intense battle for 12th spot, which will serve up what I would argue is the biggest change-up to the current access list outside of the 30+ cup winners gaining Europa League access.

I suggested that Ukraine, Norway, Greece, Czechia, Croatia, and Denmark will also be in contention for places 12th through 15th. With six other nations with a legitimate chance of these spots, there will be a lot on the line.

“Switzerland has the best chance of the seven to grab 12th place due to who you guys will have in Europe.”

David Parkes

How do you estimate the chances of Switzerland to reach top 12?

Switzerland has the best chance of the seven to grab 12th place due to who you guys will have in Europe. With FC Zürich needing to win just one tie to make a group stage, along with Basel and Young Boys being seeded throughout the UECL qualifying rounds, this could very well be a promising season for Swiss football on the continental front. I see the three clubs I already mentioned making a group stage, and would not be overly surprised if defending cup winners Lugano makes it a perfect four for four in making a group stage.

I would say for Switzerland that anything less than 15th place at season’s end would have to be considered a disappointment looking at who you guys have in Europe, and the advantage of having a lower divisor for coefficients.

How about the gap between top 15 and the rest? Will it remain as huge as it is now?

I would say the gap will close a bit. With some of the changes already mentioned, I think we will continue to see a legitimate battle for 15th as a result. I think it should be a bit easier countries 16th to maybe 18th keeping this battle going every year. That is something UEFA has gotten right, and I think they listened to top clubs from these leagues that would be involved in this area of the access list.

Right now, it is rather easy to score a lot of points in Conference League, with the coefficient distribution seeming a bit unbalanced. Will this change with the new reform?

I have asked my contacts about this, and have done quite a bit of reading. From what I have been told and from what I have read, I do not get the impression that there will be wholesale changes on this aspect.

However, I can guarantee you that there will have to be changes. Here are some of the changes I would expect, but take these with a grain of salt:

  • Qualifying will stay the same regarding the coefficient system.
  • I expect to see two points for a win and one for a draw from the league phase continue. There should still be the four bonus points for making the Champions League league phase
  • As for the knockout rounds, this is where I expect the most change. I still suspect clubs will not receive match points in the knockout round playoffs. I also think that from the round of 16 onward in all three competitions there will be bonus points awarded like now, a point per round
  • Lastly, I expect for there to still be four points for making the Champions League round of 16. I am unsure as to whether there will also be bonus points in the Europa League and Conference League, but I would not be surprised if there are points given for automatically making the round of 16: Top eight from the league phase for each competition, probably 4 for the UEL and 2 for the UECL)

“For Scotland and Serbia, I think things will get more difficult.”

David Parkes

Nations like Austria, Scotland and Serbia are on the rise. What do you think, will it be easier or harder for them to maintain their position, given that they usually have just a small amount of really good performing teams?

I think Austria should be good as long as Salzburg continues to get help from the likes of LASK Linz, Rapid Wien, and Wolfsberg or even Austria Wien and Sturm Graz. For Scotland and Serbia, I think things will get more difficult.

Why do you think so?

For countries like Scotland and Serbia, the 2024 reforms will expose their domestic leagues more than they already do. Being practically assured a top 12 position in the access list ahead of the changes, I think both Scotland and Serbia could run into problems if one of their top two clubs has a lesser season.

In your UEFA Country Ranking analysis, it can be seen that Celtic and Rangers have accounted for about 84% of the Scottish coefficient over the last five years. Between Crvena zvezda and Partizan Belgrade of Serbia, that number is 85%. Interestingly, Young Boys and Basel combine for 84% for Switzerland as well. The question I have to ask is that, can those 2-3 clubs that are outside of the duopoly start to pull their weight in Europe and help stabilize and even improve their country’s coefficient?

My answer to that is no, particularly towards Scotland and Serbia. I do not see enough evidence to suggest that. If the Czech and Greek clubs become more consistent in Europe, I can see the both of them passing at least one of Scotland and Serbia, if not both.

What is your general take on the reforms of UEFA? Are we heading in the right direction?

Many people involved in these talks fear that by UEFA adding wildcards into the UCL league phase, they would start off with two, then increase to, say four, by 2027, then eight by 2030, and so on. I agree with them on that front. I think UEFA found a sneaky way to do this by giving two spots in the UCL LP, and by claiming that it could go to anyone, when in reality, we already know which countries will be fighting for those spots, and it will not be the smaller ones.

I think there are some positives and some negatives about these changes. I already highlighted one negative about the wildcard places. I also think that there is too much caving in to what the big leagues want as if they are the only ones that matter (they are not). While UEFA did listen to the smaller countries and made some adjustments to their benefit (mainly the cup winners in UEL qualifying), I still think there is too much caving in to the bigger leagues.

I find the changes that benefit the sub-topper leagues (the other leagues part of the top 10-12) to be quite interesting. Whether I find this a good or bad thing, I am mixed on. I highlighted a potential problem in the previous question, but I want to see how this will go.

I also do not like seeing the extra potential vacancy depending on the UEL title holder being awarded to another non-champion. I still wanted to see an improvement here, with either another domestic league winner or the UECL title holder taking that place instead. I know not many will think along those lines, but that is my other main criticism.

“I do not like the fact that the UECL will only have six games at the league phase while the other two competitions will have eight.”

David Parkes

In the new format, there will not be a classic group stage anymore, but one single table. What is your take on this new approach?

I would say give this one time. We have seen this before in football actually, with CONCACAF making one as they were transitioning to their Nations League. I would say give this one a chance. I can certainly appreciate change not being great, but this is not the most horrific change ever.

With that in mind, I do not like the fact that the UECL will only have six games at the league phase while the other two competitions will have eight. I did not like that, and did reach out to a contact on why that was so. I cannot fully disclose what was said, but my general takeaway is that UEFA once again devalued the competition.

What will be the best improvements from your point of view to make international football more fair and balanced?

Definitely giving more countries access to the UEL. I know when the UECL was introduced, that was a heavy criticism, and justifiably so. I believe this was a massive step in the right direction.

I also would highlight that with there being no more teams dropping down to the lower competition following the league phase, this helps give the smaller clubs a better chance in the Europa Conference League. It will mean that only a maximum of five teams, one from each of the ‘Big 5’ leagues will have an opportunity in the Conference League, which has to be considered a win for clubs from countries like Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, and most of the other sub-topper leagues.

Are there any positive aspects of the new Champions League?

Maybe the extra spot for a domestic champion, which in turn also trickles down to the other countries as it provides them an extra opportunity of fall football in Europe. That is my only good thing here.

Regarding the coefficient places in the UCL LP, I think this was smart from UEFA. I will not go too much into why right now, but I think this was more creative than people will give credit for this.

About David Parkes

David Parkes is an UEFA expert who is a reference especially on their coefficient system. His frequently updated spreadsheet about the seedings for the upcoming season is a well-known source for many football nerds including this page.

David is working as a football freelancer and has lived and breathed football for a large part of his life. He is born in Jamaica and has lived in Canada for most of his life. David just finished his degree at McMaster University where he studied Music Cognition, French, and Music Performance. He support his local team in Hamilton as well as Fiorentina and Anderlecht.

About the UEFA Country Ranking

The UEFA Country Ranking determines how many teams can compete internationally and how many qualifying rounds they have to survive.

You can check out all the standings and life updates of the UEFA Country Ranking here.

And here you can find out which teams contribute the most to the UEFA country ranking for each nation in the last five years.

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