In a continent of 54 registered UEFA nations, three of these countries make up 40% of the 32 teams in the UEFA Champions League this year.
Does this mean that it has morphed into a competition mainly for the elite leagues in Europe, rather than a champion’s league?
On top of this, Spain are the first nation to have five teams competing in the group stages. This was a result of recent UEFA rule changes meaning that the Europa League winners are granted an automatic qualifying spot this year. This meant 5th placed La Liga side Sevilla qualified.
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In addition, Spain received three automatic slots and one entry at the playoff stage. As has been common recently, England and Germany also have four teams in the competition this season.
The original format of the competition allowed only the reigning champions and domestic league winners the opportunity to compete in the tournament. From 1991, the format steadily evolved to include group stages and extra knock-out rounds.
This led to the most drastic change when, in 1998, UEFA decided that they would allow multiple entrants from certain countries. This eventually evolved into the current footballing dynasty that the 'elite' leagues now benefit from.
Worth noting is that teams from Belarus, Croatia, Sweden, Israel, Belgium, and Kazakhstan have managed to qualify this year. Most, however, battled through several rounds of qualifying despite having won their respective leagues.
On top of this, all six of them ended up in Pot 4, having fallen victim to the seeding system. This means they have been fed to the European lions and will have very little hope of ever progressing beyond the group stage.
An alternative format
One argument that rears its head every so often is to once again revamp the competition. However, this time it could be to ensure automatic qualification for a greater number of countries. As the system currently stands, well-supported teams from smaller domestic leagues could be forgiven for thinking that the competition isn’t meant for them.
After some analysis here is a radical alternative that could revitalise the competition by introducing different teams each year and naturally re-distributing finances throughout Europe.
In the comparative international tournament, the UEFA European Championships, it is now the top 24 countries – rather than 16 - that compete every four years out of a possible 54. That compares to 17 in the UCL this year while only 12 of these countries were guaranteed spots.
If the club competition was to mirror the international tournament then the leagues of the top 24 countries in UEFA’s coefficient ranking system would be entitled to one guaranteed place in the UCL for their domestic champions.
No doubt that many fans of big clubs playing in the biggest leagues will be panicking at this idea – namely any team that hasn’t won a title for a while – so it’d be important to ensure the most successful leagues are still rewarded.
The top six countries in UEFA’s coefficient - currently Spain, Germany, England, Italy, France and Portugal – would all be granted one additional guaranteed place in the group stages for teams finishing second in their top league. Arsenal and Manchester United fans will not be satiated by this compromise but since when was finishing 3rd or 4th considered worthy of reward?
Automatic qualification would also still be granted to the winner of the UEFA Europa League. To allow even further representation, a solitary spot would also be up for grabs to the four countries in positions 25-28, through two knock-out rounds. Another big plus to this format would be that teams would no longer have to endure seemingly endless qualification rounds.
These changes would mean that either 25 or 26 different nations would have a representative each season, improving financial distribution between countries and giving more of an opportunity to clubs from smaller countries.
This format would also benefit the Europa League as teams such as Arsenal and Manchester United, who finished third and fourth respectively in the EPL last season, would enter this competition. This would attract more lucrative TV deals and ultimately more prestige and finance.
According to this format, this year's UCL would have included:
1. Barcelona (Spain)
2. Real Madrid (Spain)
3. Bayern Munich (Germany)
4. VfL Wolfsburg (Germany)
5. Chelsea (England)
6. Manchester City (England)
7. Juventus (Italy)
8. Roma (Italy)
9. PSG (France)
10. Lyon (France)
11. Benfica (Portugal)
12. Porto (Portugal)
13. Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
14. Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine)
15. KAA Gent (Belgium)
16. PSV (Netherlands)
17. Basel (Switzerland)
18. Galatasaray (Turkey)
19. Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic)
20. Olympiakos (Greece)
21. Steaua Bucarest (Romania)
22. Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
23. Salzburg (Austria)
24. APOEL (Cyprus)
25. Lech Poznan (Poland)
26. Malmo (Sweden)
27. Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)
28. BATE Borisov (Belarus)
29. Midtjylland (Denmark)
30. Molde (Norway)
31. Europa League Winners: Sevilla (Spain)
32. The remaining spot would have been taken by one of Celtic (Scotland), Qarabag (Azerbaijan), Partizan Belgrade (Serbia), or FC Astana (Kazakhstan) through qualifying rounds.
Obviously this format would mean some massive clubs would have missed out, these include, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Bayern Leverkusen, CSKA Moscow and as mentioned above, Arsenal and Manchester United too.
What do you think? Should UEFA be concerned about the lack of country diversity?
Would this format be fairer?
Have your say in the comments below.