What if the Champions League really was the ‘Champions League’?

Written by Connor Lawson

Much is made of how clubs qualify for the Champions League. In case you are unfamiliar of the qualification process, here is how it stood for the 18/19 season.

The top four teams from the top leagues in England, Germany, Italy and Spain all advanced straight to the group stage, meanwhile the top three in France get automatically put into the groups. Russia gets their top two teams in at the group stages.

Only the champions of the top divisions in Portugal, Ukraine, Belgium, Turkey and the Czech Republic go straight to the group stages, with the second placed team in these divisions having to go through qualifying rounds.

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So, that’s 26 teams who automatically qualify for the group stages, leaving space for eight more teams from 42 different countries who do not get automatic qualification for the group stages.

The Dutch and Swiss champions come into the fourth qualifying round, with the runners up in these two nations going into the second qualifying round.

The Greek and Austrian champions enter in the third qualifying round and the runners up in these two nations also enter in the second qualifying round.

That’s the end of countries getting more than one team to compete in the Champions League. This means that 38 countries only get one team to compete.

The winners of the top leagues in Romania, Denmark, Belarus and Croatia enter in the second qualifying round.

In the first qualifying round, the champions of Sweden, Israel, Scotland, Cyprus, Norway, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova, Iceland, Finland, Albania, the Republic of Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Latvia, Macedonia, Estonia, Montenegro, Armenia, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland, Lithuania, Malta, Wales and the Faroe Islands all come into the competition.

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This leaves four countries. The champions of Andorra, Kosovo, San Marino and Gibraltar all enter in the preliminary round.

Just over a quarter UEFA’s member nations get more than one team in the competition. Half of the teams in the group stages come from just four countries. How is this fair?

So, that begs the question, what if the Champions League really was the Champions League. In essence, what if the champions of each UEFA member nation competed against each other in one big competition?

The first issue would be numbers. Assuming each country gets one team, there would be 54 sides, which would mean you couldn’t have groups of four.

It could mirror the Europa League in having 64 teams and 16 groups. However, this would mean adding ten teams. So perhaps the top ten UEFA nations could each get an extra team. If this were used in the 18/19 season, Spain, Germany, Italy, England, France, Russia, Portugal, Ukraine, Belgium and Turkey would all get two teams.

So, using the 64-team format and basing it on the league tables from the 17/18 season, here are the teams that each nation would get:

  • Spain – Barcelona and Atletico Madrid
  • Germany – Bayern Munich and Schalke 04
  • England – Manchester City and Manchester United
  • Italy – Juventus and Napoli
  • France – Paris Saint-Germain
  • Russia – Lokomotiv Moscow
  • Portugal – Porto
  • Ukraine – Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Belgium – Club Brugge
  • Turkey – Galatasaray
  • Austria – Red Bull Salzburg
  • Switzerland – Young Boys
  • Czech Republic – Viktoria Plzen
  • The Netherlands – PSV Eindhoven
  • Greece – AEK Athens
  • Croatia – Dinamo Zagreb
  • Denmark – Midtjylland
  • Israel – Hapoel Be’er Sheva
  • Cyrpus – APOEL
  • Romania – CFR Cluj
  • Poland – Legia Warsaw
  • Sweden – Malmo FF
  • Azerbaijan – Qarabag
  • Scotland – Celtic
  • Bulgaria – Ludogorets Razgrad
  • Serbia – Red Star Belgrade
  • Belarus – BATE Borisov
  • Kazakhstan – Astana
  • Norway – Rosenborg
  • Slovenia – Olimpija Ljubljana
  • Slovakia – Spartak Trnava
  • Moldova – Sheriff Triaspol
  • Albania – Skenderbeu Korce
  • Iceland – Valur
  • Hungary – MOL Vidi
  • Macedonia – Shkendija
  • Finland = HJK Helsinki
  • Republic of Ireland – Cork City
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina – Zrinjski Mostar
  • Latvia – Spataks Jurmala
  • Estonia – Flora
  • Lithuania – Suduva
  • Montenegro – Sutjeska
  • Georgia – FC Torpedo Kutaisi
  • Malta – Valletta
  • Armenia – Alashkert
  • Luxembourg – F19 Dudelange
  • Northern Ireland – Crusaders
  • Wales – The New Saints
  • Faroe Islands – Vikingur Gota
  • Gibraltar – Lincoln Red Imps
  • Andorra – FC Santa Coloma
  • San Marino – La Fiorita
  • Kosovo – FC Drita

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An interesting line up, with every UEFA member nation represented. This would truly be the Champions League. How can finishing fourth in your division constitute being a champion?

The smallest ground in the competition would be that of FC Santa Coloma. The largest available venue for them to play in would be a 1,500 capacity stadium in Andorra. Meanwhile, the largest would be the Camp Nou, which is 66 times bigger than the biggest venue for Santa Coloma.

La Fiorita have never won a European game in their history which would be potentially interesting if they come up against the likes of Barcelona.

But, to avoid any double figures wins, it would be a great idea to place teams in groups based on their ability. So, if there were 16 groups, you could have FC Drita, La Fiorita, FC Santa Coloma and Lincoln Red Imps in the lowest ranked group, then Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus and Man City in the highest ranked group.

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This would give the smaller teams a chance to progress in the competition and generate income that they may rely on.

Obviously the downside would be the fact that there would be some thrashings and it may not be as competitive, but surely it would be far more interesting.

What’s more, it would give the teams in the top leagues more of an incentive to succeed, thus making these divisions more competitive.

In an age where Real Madrid have won the title three times consecutively, and have been in four of the last five finals, surely the competition needs an injection of unpredictability.

However, the reason this won’t change comes down to one key word. Money.

The money is in the top leagues and the top teams. The money is in the packed out stadiums of 50,000+. The money is in a heavyweight final. The money is simply being pumped to where money already is.

There is no money in FC Santa Coloma. There is no money in 3,000 capacity sell-out games. There is no money in the smaller teams. There is no money in giving the underdogs hope.

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UEFA is corrupt in many ways, as we know, hence why nothing will change. If they had the wider interests of football at heart, then they would cease to allow four of its member nations to monopolise the competition.

In an ideal world, the Champions League truly would be the Champions League.

But we don’t live in an ideal world.

What do you think of these ideas? Would you prefer a reformation of the Champions League or would you retain the current system?