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UEFA ponders closed-off Champions League with 8-team groups

May 9, 2019
Juventus's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, celebrates after scoring the goal with teammate Moise Kean during the Italian Serie A soccer match between Juventus FC and Torino FC at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, Italy, Friday, May 3, 2019. (Alessandro Di Marco/ansa via AP)
Juventus's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, celebrates after scoring the goal with teammate Moise Kean during the Italian Serie A soccer match between Juventus FC and Torino FC at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, Italy, Friday, May 3, 2019. (Alessandro Di Marco/ansa via AP)

GENEVA (AP) — UEFA is considering a proposal to change the Champions League in 2024 in a way that would move toward a closed-off competition favoring elite clubs over rivals from smaller domestic leagues.

Documents seen by The Associated Press propose that 24 of the 32 teams in the 2024-25 group stage would retain their lucrative places the next season regardless of where they finish in national domestic leagues.

The documents match the aims of the influential European Club Association (ECA) which is competing for influence at UEFA with the European Leagues umbrella group.

The proposal would create eight-team groups kicking off in August, and narrow the entry path for teams from winners of lower-ranking leagues.

The system, if approved by UEFA next year, would guarantee at least 14 Champions League games instead of the current six for each club, earning them tens of millions of euros (dollars) in extra revenue from broadcasting and sponsor deals struck by UEFA. The 16-team knockout stage would be retained, with seven further games for the two finalists.

The leagues group fears that will widen the wealth gap favoring an elite few and severely damage the competitive balance, commercial value and fan interest in national competitions.

UEFA’s draft plan suggests four Champions League teams will be relegated each season into the next season’s second-tier Europa League.

They would be replaced by four Europa League semifinalists who would be promoted.

Only four qualifying places would be left for national champions competing in preliminary rounds.

It would leave the Dutch league runner-up — as Ajax was before reaching the Champions League semifinals this season — no route into the competition.

Four entries via preliminary rounds is a cut from the current six, while 10 places were on offer until last year.

It is unclear how the first lineup in a revamped Champions League would be decided, though UEFA’s plans says countries would be limited to a maximum of five teams as at present.

A team’s historical record in European competition could be a factor, while qualification purely on sporting merit would risk storied clubs who are influential in the ECA missing out.

Manchester United is currently sixth in the Premier League and will not share in the $2.3 billion Champions League prize money fund next season. In Italy, unheralded Atalanta is set to edge seven-time European champion AC Milan for a qualifying place.

UEFA presented its plan to European league officials Wednesday, almost two months after a first publicly acknowledged meeting with the ECA, led by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli.

In a statement Wednesday, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said the details under discussion were “only ideas and opinions” in a year-long consultation.

The plan also involves promotion and relegation between the Europa League and a third-tier competition which has yet to launch.

The third competition, currently called Europa League 2, will kick off in the 2021-22 season with the same 32-team format, in eight groups of four, as the Champions League and Europa League will have that season.

In 2024, the third-tier competition would have 64 teams playing in four divisions of 16 teams, according to the UEFA documents.

UEFA has declined to comment on details of its plan before briefing its 55 member federations on May 17 in Budapest, Hungary.

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AP Global Soccer Writer Rob Harris in London contributed to this report

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