Thursday's soccer news starts with a question UEFA may have already answered. With the continual threat of a breakaway European super league, a report in The Times has UEFA planning to add four games to the Champions League in 2024. How that will work isn't clear, but the likeliest reason for those extra matchdays would be the old second group model.
Like the name suggests, back in the early 2000s there were two group stages in the Champions League. Winning the initial group stage moved 16 teams into a second group stage that ran from November through March. Eight of those teams advanced to the quarterfinals. That attempt to add guaranteed games ended with the 2002-03 Champions League.
Why UEFA might be interested in returning to what most considered a failed experiment is certainly worth asking. The double group stage version of the Champions League wasn't what the organizers intended, leading to the same complaints about the first group stage familiar to anybody paying attention.
In the second group stage of the 2002-03 Champions League, two of the four groups had teams finish with 1 or 0 points. Though Juventus ended up making the final after advancing from Group D on a tiebreaker with the 2nd through 4th-place teams finishing with 7 points, it didn't exactly delight all of Europe. Instead, UEFA's tinkering raised questions about the need for so many Champions League games. Calling a tournament a league has never been all that convincing, asking another question. Why should it take so many games to determine the champion of European club soccer?
Pressure from the elite clubs means UEFA is unlikely to answer that by reducing games or returning to the old "only champions qualify" system. Instead, European soccer's governing body has shown multiple times that they will bend to the desires of those elite clubs. Given how much money is at stake and the existential threat UEFA faces from those clubs breaking away, that's not at all surprising. Still, it's worth noting that left to their own devices UEFA tacks on games.
The super elite of Europe could care less about the multiple rounds of Champions League qualifying, especially since UEFA now enters the teams from the elite leagues directly into the group stage. Yet UEFA has turned that into a ridiculous glut of games starting shortly after they crown the previous season's champion. Maybe some in Europe's lesser leagues confuse the Champions League qualifiers as a fair chance at making the group stage, but reality suggests otherwise.
Meanwhile, it's certainly worth considering what extra games get UEFA or the clubs. We know from past experience that fans of the elite clubs won't necessarily pay for games that may not matter. We also know that four matchdays isn't the same as a league controlled by the elite clubs. It's not even a half measure with that in mind. At best, it's an answer to a question those elite clubs weren't asking. According to reports, what the clubs want is for Champions League games across the schedule, potentially turning into an actual league. That would mean 10 extra matchdays, not three.
That's the problem with the Champions League across the board. It's a tournament designed to satisfy the elite while eroding its basic purpose. The champions of Europe should be the champions of their domestic league. It's a simple concept that's turned into a gargantuan moneymaker intent on moving far away from its goal.
The Guardian's David Conn works through UEFA's club benchmarking report. UEFA's report is available as a pdf. The Telegraph's Tom Morgan uses UEFA's report to show what fear of relegation does to Premier League spending. SI.com's Jonathan Wilson looks at how Spurs is changing under Jose Mourinho. iNews' James Gray asks why no team has hired former Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino.
MLSsoccer's Matthew Doyle's look at clubs across MLS as they being their preseasons. The Boston Globe's Frank Dell'Apa on the importance of the SuperDraft for the New England Revolution. The Athletic's Matt Pentz has Seattle navigating the roster rules with the league's CBA expiring at the end of the month. LAFC signed former Feyenoord and Ajax goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer. Pro Soccer USA's Mike Gramajo talks to NYCFC coach Ronny Delia with his team involved in the Florida Cup.
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