Tuesday looks set to be a momentous day in European football as associations vote on reforms to the Champions League.
A restructuring from 2024 onward is inevitable as clubs look to maximise revenues from European competition with the effects of the pandemic altering the landscape forver.
However, the idea of reforms has naturally made Rangers and Celtic wary of the form they’ll take.
While they may have millions of fans all over the world, the Premiership’s big two don’t have the cache of Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Manchester United.
Should Celtic and Rangers fear even more hurdles being placed in their path on the way to the Champions League group stage?
We’ve broken down the various ideas that have been floated, what’s likely to be voted on and how it will affect the Scottish game.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has long been an advocate of a closed shop system.
In addition, outgoing Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu announced as his last act that he’d signed the Catalan giants up to a Super League plan.
That appears dead in the water though as UEFA and FIFA have come out firmly against it.
Agnelli’s original idea
Though he’s often been touted as the architect behind a potential closed shop system, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli hasn’t advocated for a Super League – at least not as we know it.
The Italian has namechecked Celtic as a club that should have more opportunity to compete in the Champions League thanks to their history in the competition.
However, Agnelli does want to see reforms that would, in his words, “protecting the investments and costs” of clubs.
Put simply the Juve chief wants a sort of safety net for clubs that perform well in Europe consistently.
He has cited the example of Roma who were regular participants and raised the Serie A coefficient but then suffered “one bad season and out”.
Uefa was proposing a Champions League containing four groups of eight clubs, as opposed to the current eight groups of four, meaning 14 games, some of which could be played at weekends.
That would keep 32 teams but expand the number of games, making TV packages more lucrative.
However, playing at weekends would impinge on domestic leagues.
That’s not too much of an issue for Celtic and Rangers, but it’s anathema to the club’s from Europe’s big five leagues.
The Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 already have big domestic TV contracts – though France just lost theirs – and they have no desire to dilute the value of their broadcast rights on the home front.
In his role as head of the European Club Association, Agnelli has shot down the idea of a Super League.
He said in January: “Competitions at European level should be open to all. Everything should be based on sporting matters.
“We must keep the dream alive.”
As discussed though the Juve chief also wants protection for clubs based on previous success in the Champions League.
However, UEFA’s plan isn’t going to fly with the top five leagues and without them any reform is dead in the water.
The solution is a so-called ‘Swiss system’, which would add four more teams to the group stage.
That would see all 36 teams placed in a single league table with opponents determined based on pre-season ranking positions.
The top eight would advance automatically to the last 16, with the next 16 playing off to make it to the knockout rounds.
Three of the extra group stage places would be based on a team’s historic European record – thereby providing the safety net Agnelli has called for.
Games would continue to be played at weekends, and while the European Leagues body has voiced concern about the pressure on congested domestic calendars they could back a plan with just four more rounds.
Semi final proposal
Another bone of contention is the so-called ‘Ajax issue’.
Under the current system Celtic or Rangers could theoretically reach the last four of the Champions League but be eliminated in qualifying in the next season and have no European football after August.
It was a threat that faced Ajax after they reached the semis in 2018-19.
One solution that’s been mooted is allowing all semi-finalists into the group phase and introducing a play-off for the fourth-placed teams in the two lowest-ranking leagues who currently get four automatic group phase slots.
Proposals will go before all 55 member associations next week and Gazzetta dello Sport reports that the 36 team plan will be on the table.
Importantly, however, there will be no automatic places.
The Champions League winners will qualify and he 35 other spots will be assigned by the respective domestic leagues.
That could leave the door open for an individual league to select a club based on their European record rather than league position though we’ll have too see the plans in more detail.
For Rangers and Celtic it means that the door has not been closed and qualification would mean at least 10 Champions League games rather than six.
However, even with an improved coefficient they could still face an arduous qualification process.
What it means for the rest
Realistically the rest of the Premiership can’t hope to compete with Glasgow’s big two and the plans risk entrenching the divide.
Four more European games will presumably generate even more money, with only Celtic and Rangers likely to reap the rewards.
The introduction of the new UEFA Conference League may help matters but the disparity is only likely to widen.
It leaves the Old Firm clubs in an odd position: domestic dominance is likely to be cemented but bigger, richer clubs on the continent could pull further away.
-- to www.dailyrecord.co.uk