Sunday's announcement that UEFA is set to introduce a new club competition, known provisionally as "UEL2," came as no great surprise, as the Executive Committee of European football's governing body merely confirmed what for months had been widely expected. But does Europe really need yet another club competition? UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin and the rest of his Executive Committee obviously think so.
Ceferin staying true to his word
UEFA says the move comes at least partly in response to "a widespread demand by all clubs to increase their chances of participating more regularly in European competition." However, you have to think it's come in response to the demands of clubs below Europe's top tier, who saw their chances of qualifying for the lucrative group stage of the Champions League reduced by the latest changes in format to the world's most prestigious club competition.
Still, with the inception of UEL2, Ceferin, who as a Slovenian, hails from one of UEFA's smaller member nations, has achieved a goal that he has made no secret of since being elected UEFA president in 2016. At last year's Extraordinary Congress of UEFA in Geneva, Ceferin stressed the importance of keeping "the dream alive for all."
UEL2 promises to go some way to achieving that goal, as, beginning in 2021-22 a minimum of 34 countries are to be represented in the group stages of European club competitions, compared to the current minimum of 26. The number of total teams will increase from 80 to 96.
Back to the good old days?
Some may write all of this off as a new president simply making good on a campaign promise. However, for those who remember the days when it was possible for smaller clubs like Nottingham Forest or Red Star Belgrade to become champions of Europe, trying to reduce the gap between football's haves and have-nots is not a bad thing.
At the same time, football is a business at least as much as it is a sport. As if any reminder was needed, this came in the fact that UEFA stressed that "no changes will be made to the format and access" to European football's biggest cash cow; the Champions League.
But UEFA would do well to remember that football is only a viable business as long as the customers (the fans) are buying it. And there are signs that not all fans are prepared to buy everything football administrators try to sell them.
Prominent German fan group speaks out
Over the past couple of seasons, fan groups in Germany in particular have been voicing their displeasure over what they perceive as the over-commercialization of football, their latest protests coming on Bundesliga Matchday 13. And their protests have not fallen on deaf ears, either. One German fan group, Unsere Kurve (Our Terrace), has already rejected UEL2 as yet another example of the over-commercialization of the beautiful game.
Following Sunday's announcement, the real question for UEFA will be; whether in an already saturated football market, enough paying customers will be willing to spend their hard-earned cash to watch a third club competition, to make UEL2 financially viable. Ultimately, it will be the fans who decide.Chuck Penfold