Uefa considered US-style draft as alternative to Champions League draw

Uefa will have a tennis-style seeding system instead of the traditional Champions League draw

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Wednesday 13 March 2024 07:33 GMT
Arsenal train ahead of crucial UCL last 16 second leg against Porto
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The newly expanded Champions League will have a tennis-style seeding system instead of a draw for the knock-out stages, and now involve a hybrid digital-manual draw for the “Swiss system” group stage.

An idea to even have a “US draft” style pick for knock-outs - where clubs would get to pick potential knock-out opponents depending on their table finish - was even discussed by Uefa, as a number of possibilities were raised.

As an attempt to combat long-term financial gaps and the erosion of competitive balance in the group stage, the Champions League will next season move to a 36-team open league, where every club will play eight games against different opponents before eight automatically qualify for the last 16 and another 16 go into a play-off round.

Although the Champions League draw has become one of the showpiece events of the competition, Uefa modelling showed that a straight draw for who plays who in the opening stage would take up to four hours. It will instead by a hybrid system, with some of it digital and the rest manual, overseen by firms such as Ernst and Young. The exact process is still being discussed.

The draw will be done away with completely for the knock-out stage, in part to add further incentives to where you finish in the opening league. A tennis-style seeding system will be introduced rather than an open draw. Uefa had gone back and forth in discussions on this, and general secretary Theodore Theodiridis even raised the idea of qualified teams getting choices in order of seeding in a live TV event. The first-place club, as an example, could feasibly have 30 seconds to pick from the other 15 teams.

The Champions League draw could be a thing of the past (Getty Images/UEFA)

This was dismissed by other members of the discussion. A tennis-style system has instead been settled on, which could lead to further criticisms of the competition being “gerrymandered” towards the biggest clubs.

There are meanwhile no plans to move the Champions League final outside Europe or have non-European clubs, due to the fact it remains a European competition at its core. This position is understood to have pushed the Saudi Pro Leagues to further back Fifa’s expanded Club World Cup, since they have been cast as the main non-European sides looking to enter the Champions League due to its profile.

Uefa have meanwhile dismissed plans for a “final four” mega event, where the semi-finalists would all go to one venue in one-off games. This was due to pushback from the clubs, since a home semi-final is the last and biggest fixture the supporters can go to at their own stadium.

Uefa has meanwhile tightened procedures for the Champions League final itself, after a near disaster in Paris in 2022 and numerous complaints around logistics for Istanbul last year. Football Supporters Europe are now included in processes that are hoped to prioritise fan experience and logistics.

A corresponding issue is that the global size of the Champions League has meant that only a handful of European venues are equipped to host it.

Uefa essentially needs a huge tourist infrastructure and a high-class stadium. This essentially leaves London, Lisbon, Madrid, Munich, Rome, Budapest, Gelsenkirchen and Berlin. Stadiums and infrastructure in cities like Barcelona and Paris would have to be significantly improved.

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