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GENEVA, March 27, (AP): Changing the Champions League to a 36-team format featuring games from 2024 could be agreed by UEFA next week, a member of its executive committee said. Lars-Christer Olsson, who represents Europe’s domestic leagues on the UEFA ruling committee, said it plans to meet on Wednesday if a proposal is ready to be approved. The preferred option that includes abolishing the traditional group stage could be agreed Tuesday by UEFA’s club competitions committee.
There is consensus between UEFA and leaders of European soccer’s top clubs and leagues to add four entries to the Champions League with the teams playing in a single 36-team standings from the 2024-25 season – a variation of the so-called “Swiss system” used in chess tournaments. Where clubs and leagues differ is how to award the extra places, how many games each team should play and how to distribute the prize money. The European Club Association wants two entries reserved for teams who did not qualify on merit but are highly ranked by UEFA based on results in past seasons. Critics say that would bail out storied clubs with tens of millions of euros (dollars) in UEFA prize money.
The clubs also want to play 10 different opponents in a format creating 100 extra games in total and four extra midweeks exclusively for the Champions League. The 30-nation European Leagues group wants three places kept for national champions in its mid-ranked members, and a schedule of eight games for each team. That would create 64 extra Champions League games and save two midweeks for domestic games. However, the UEFA panel meeting on Tuesday is stacked in the clubs’ favor. “We have to be honest and say that the clubs have had more influence (at UEFA) than we have had,” Olsson acknowledged. UEFA has hoped to reach a deal on the post-2024 look of club competitions before its annual congress of 55 member federations on April 20.
Olsson said many of those UEFA members are supporting the leagues’ ideas for fairer distribution of Champions League entries and money. The Champions League currently shares almost 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) among 32 clubs each season. UEFA officials have predicted a “significant increase” in broadcast and sponsor revenue for the 2024 changes which will create more prize money. Olsson cautioned “less is more” for the value of Champions League games. The Swedish official was part of UEFA management 20 years ago when clubs pushed for a second group stage that created more guaranteed games by replacing some knockout rounds. “It was a total disaster,” said Olsson, who went on to be UEFA’s chief executive from 2003-07. “I hope we are not making the same mistake now.”
Meanwhile a Croatian soccer official sentenced to prison in a corruption case linked to a Luka Modrić transfer was removed from a committee overseeing the European Championship, UEFA said . Damir Vrbanović lost an appeal last week against his conviction and a three-year sentence in a ruling by the supreme court of Croatia. Vrbanović, a former executive at Dinamo Zagreb and the Croatia soccer federation, had been reappointed by UEFA to its National Team Competitions Committee in 2019 while awaiting his appeal against the conviction the previous year. UEFA also removed former Serbia soccer president Slavisa Kozeka from its committee overseeing the 55 European member federations. Kozeka resigned as head of Serbian soccer on Monday after being linked to a fan group with alleged ties to organized crime.
“They are no longer members of their respective UEFA standing committees,” the European soccer body said Friday of Vrbanović and Kozeka. In the Croatian case, the conviction was also upheld for Dinamo Zagreb coach Zoran Mamić, who resigned two days before his team beat Tottenham last week to reach the Europa League quarterfinals. The case related to millions of dollars embezzled from transfers abroad of Dinamo players, including Modrić to Tottenham in 2008 and Dejan Lovren to Lyon in 2010. Both players testified in court in 2018 and had been accused of perjury.