Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur both started the season with Champions League aspirations. But next season, one of them could find themselves playing in European football’s newest tournament – the UEFA Conference League.
Whichever team finishes seventh in the Premier League will earn a place in the Conference League’s inaugural season knockout round. At the moment it’s probably Liverpool, Spurs, Everton or West Ham United.
But the Premier League side that wind up in the Conference League are unlikely to see him as a consolation prize. And their presence goes against what the competition was originally envisioned.
At the launch of the UEFA Conference League. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said it would make “UEFA’s club competitions more inclusive than ever” and that there was “widespread demand from all clubs to increase their chances of participating more regularly in European competitions”.
Although the new Conference League is inclusive, it may be too inclusive. By allowing a team from the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1, UEFA has drastically reduced the chances of other nations seeing European club success.
The latter stages of the Champions League and Europa League are already dominated by teams from these countries, with the last nine Europa League winners coming from the Premier League or La Liga, and Porto being the only team outside the four biggest leagues to win. Champions League since 1995.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the inaugural UEFA Conference League final in the Albanian capital Tirana was also played between teams from two of those five leagues.
The seventh-best teams in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga, as well as the 5th-best team in France’s Ligue 1, would all enter the UEFA Conference League at the play-off stage. Based on the current tables, these clubs could well be Tottenham Hotspur, Villareal, Borussia Mönchengladbach, AS Roma and Marseille. These include a team that reached the Champions League final in 2019, a team that reached the Europa League final this season, a team that reached the semi-final this season and a team that reached the final of the Europa League in 2018.
With teams of this caliber potentially playing in the Conference League next season, Europe’s smaller nations are already the underdogs in what was to be a competition for them.
At the same time, if a team like Liverpool were to end up winning the Conference League, would they go on a trophy tour or make banners to go along with those of their five European cups? Will the club organize an open top bus tour around the city? More likely, they will play their reserve side in the Conference League, at best treating it like the Carabao Cup while their best eleven will compete for a place in the Premier League’s top four.
It could turn the Conference League into something of a European version of the EFL Trophya competition for England’s third and fourth tier clubs which was devalued by the addition of under-21 teams to the Premier League as fans actively boycotted the competition.
The Conference League allows 16 more teams to play European football in the group stage next season, and its biggest advantage is that it has improved the Europa League by reducing it slightly. There will be just 32 teams in the Europa League group stage, down from 48 last season. Teams that win their Europa League group will qualify directly for the Round of 16 (second-placed teams have a play-off round against teams leaving the Champions League).
The UEFA Conference League and the teams that participate in it are not much different from the Europa League teams. The new UEFA tournament had the potential to be different from the Europa League and to excite fans across the rest of Europe who have been increasingly sidelined by the uneven development of football across the continent.
But by choosing to have the biggest nations compete, UEFA may have already damaged its new Conference League before it even kicks off, creating an unbalanced competition where the clubs that want to win it cannot, and the clubs that can win it don’t want to. be there in the first place.