Saturday, April 13

FA Cup winners to be given Champions League spot under new Uefa rules – but only if you’re a ‘big club’

The FA Cup winners could potentially qualify for the Champions League from 2024 under new rules being agreed by Uefa – but only if they are one of the clubs in Europe with a historic record of success in Uefa competitions.

The new proposals will see the two extra places in a new 36-team Champions League awarded on co-efficient from 2024 – the formula that Uefa uses to measure historic success in the competition. The Champions League places will be awarded to the two non-qualified clubs ranked highest on the Uefa co-efficient list, as long as they have either finished one league place outside the Champions League spots in their own domestic league, or won their domestic cup.

By way of example, if Crystal Palace were to win this season’s FA Cup final, there would be no prospect of the club earning a Champions League place because of its non-existent Uefa co-efficient. However, if one of the other three clubs in the semi-finals – Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City – were to finish outside the Premier League’s top four, winning the FA Cup would be a route for them into the Champions League. All three have a strong Uefa co-efficient ranking.

The safety-net approach to giving big clubs with historic success a second chance of qualifying – while denying it to smaller clubs – has caused outrage among some. The West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady said that change of heart over co-efficient places by Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin was “Putin-esque”. Writing in The Sun, she said the Uefa president was “nodding to a rich boys’ club who don’t like the idea of fair competition at home leaving them without a ticket to further big bucks abroad.”

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It is understood that the new rules are very close to agreement with a Uefa presentation to the European Club Association (ECA) – the key negotiating body for clubs in Europe – last Monday. From 2024, the Champions League will switch from a 32-team, eight-group system to a 36-team single league table in its first round. The “Swiss model” will add 100 more games per season to the competition. The clubs will play 10 group-stage games against opponents determined by a seeding system.

The big debate between Uefa and the ECA, even before the launch of the doomed Super League one year ago, was the award of two places to clubs on the basis of historic performance – the Uefa co-efficient. After the Super league was defeated by Uefa and national associations and leagues it was thought that the two co-efficient places would be abandoned in favour of meritocratic qualification based on performance in the preceding league season alone.

However, Ceferin has been obliged to compromise. His deputy secretary general, Giorgio Marchetti, explained to clubs this week how the two extra teams would be drawn from Uefa’s co-efficient list. Uefa administrators would go down the list from the top until they found a club that had not qualified for the Champions League via their domestic league position. If that club had either finished one place outside the Champions League spots in their own league, or won their domestic cup, they would get a co-efficient place, limited to a total of two.  

Applying the rules being proposed for post-2024 to last season, 2020/2021, would have seen Shakhtar Donetsk and Lyon qualify for the Champions League via the co-efficient path. Shakhtar finished second in the Ukraine Premier League, one place outside the single Champions League spot awarded to the winner. Lyon finished fourth in Ligue 1. From 2024, France will have three Champions League spots, which would leave Lyon just outside those places. Of the non-qualified teams, Shakhtar and Lyon had the best co-efficient.

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Applying the post-2024 rules to the 2019/2020 season would have seen Arsenal qualify for the Champions League by virtue of their 2020 FA Cup triumph. Although the club finished eighth in the Premier League, the domestic cup victory would have brought a strong co-efficient into play. Roma would have been the other co-efficient qualified team. They finished fifth in Serie A that season and under post-2024 rules Italy will have four Champions League places.

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