Football

'Keeping it in the family'

Uefa staves off threat of a breakaway 
league by giving four guaranteed 
Champions League spots for top four leagues

The Premier League is set to have four teams qualifying automatically for the Champions League group stage from the 2018-19 season.

Uefa announced at a press conference yesterday that Europe's leading leagues in their co-efficient rankings - currently the Premier League, Spain's La Liga, Germany's Bundesliga and Italy's Serie A - will all have automatic qualification for top-four finishers.

Under the current system, there are automatic spots for the top three English, Spanish and German clubs, with a fourth having to qualify through a play-off.

In Italy, only the top two qualify automatically with third contesting a play-off, which their clubs have failed to negotiate for the last three seasons.

The move, which is understood to have been championed by representatives from Spain and Italy, has partly been driven by the potential threat of a breakaway European Super League by top clubs.

Other changes implemented by Uefa, to take effect in 2018 when the new three-year commercial cycle begins, will see clubs judged on their own records, deleting the country share for the individual club coefficient unless that coefficient is lower than 20 per cent of the association's coefficient.

Historical success in the competition will also be acknowledged in coefficient calculation, with points awarded for previous European titles, while financial distribution to clubs will be increased significantly for both the Champions League and Europa League.

NEW DEVELOPMENT

The Champions League will continue to have a 32-team group stage and a 16-club knockout phase and the Europa League remains at 48 teams, although in a new development, the winners will automatically qualify for the Champions League group stage as currently they can potentially take part in a play-off round.

"The evolution of Uefa's club competitions is the result of a wide-ranging consultative process involving all stakeholders and taking into account a wide range of expertise and perspectives," said Uefa's interim general secretary Theodore Theodoridis.

"The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe's elite club competitions.

"We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance."

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chairman of the European Clubs Association which lobbies on behalf of teams playing in continental competition, said: "I welcome Uefa's decision. It reflects a serious and fair solution for European club football.

"I am particularly pleased with the fact that the European football community remains united moving forward."

Uefa has been without a president since last December when Frenchman Michel Platini was banned for eight years by global football body Fifa for ethics violations, later reduced to four on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Uefa will hold an election to find a replacement for Platini in Athens on Sept 16.

Michael van Praag, Angel Maria Villar and Aleksandar Ceferin, the heads of the Dutch, Spanish and Slovenian federations respectively, are the three candidates.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo won the Uefa Best Player in Europe Award on Thursday after winning both last season's Champions League and Euro 2016 with Portugal.

Ronaldo, 31, received the accolade for the second time in his career, after finishing ahead of Real teammate Gareth Bale and Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann.

"I'm obviously delighted to receive this award. It's been an incredible season, but the two other players deserve it as well," said Ronaldo, who also won the prize in 2013-14.

Ronaldo struck the winning spot-kick as Real claimed a record 11th European Cup title, beating city rivals Atletico on penalties in May, before leading his country to Euro 2016 glory.

Ronaldo scored three goals en route to the final of the tournament to equal Platini's record of nine goals in the European Championship Finals.

The award was voted for by journalists from each of Uefa's 55 member associations. - Wire Services.

SILVERWARE: Cristiano Ronaldo is Uefa’s Best Player in Europe after lifting the Champions League trophy (above) with Real Madrid and winning Euro 2016 with Portugal. PHOTO: AFP
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