The Champions League as we know it ends these days

The group stage is the best-known, most attended and, in some ways, symbolic part of the UEFA Champions League, the most important and fascinating tournament in European football. For more than thirty years, it has marked the seasons and events of many supporters, from the draws at the end of August to the last and decisive rounds of December. The groups of the current edition will be decided these days, between Tuesday and Wednesday, for the last time: from next season, the Champions League will change format and the groups will disappear, at least as we see them have known so far.

Every major change in the tournament that rewards the European champion team since 1956 has been to the groups, and each of these changes has coincided with the start of new eras of football.

Until 1991, the then European Cup was a tournament in which 32 teams, the only winners of European national titles, competed in the direct elimination phase. In the 90/91 season, the last edition structured in this way was played, and in a football where the differences between the clubs were not as huge as today, the winner was Red Star Belgrade: c It was at the same time the first and last victory of united Yugoslavia in professional football.

Since then, there have only been Italian (5), Spanish (13), French (1), English (7), German (4), Dutch (1) and Portuguese (1) victories. Over the past ten years, the circle has narrowed further: only Spanish, English and German teams have won.

Fiorentina-Liverpool in the 2009 Champions League groups (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The gap between European teams and the first and second tier championships began to widen from the 1991/1992 season, when the European Cup introduced a group stage for the first time, after the round of 16. final, replacing the quarter-finals and semi-finals. . UEFA thus increased the total number of matches and, consequently, the revenue generated by the tournament, notably through broadcast rights, which, with the spread of pay television, had already begun to radically change professional football.

It is an experimental format that laid the foundations for the current Champions League, which began in the summer of 1992 with 36 participating teams, one for each UEFA member country and four more than the Previous edition: after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they were in fact, the number of European football countries, and therefore championships, increased. It is precisely thanks to the presence of the minor league teams that the first preliminary rounds were established, which now occupy the summer months of the competition.

In 1991, it took Red Star just nine matches to become European champions. The following year, Barcelona played ten before the Wembley final won against Vialli and Mancini’s Sampdoria, as did Milan and Marseille, finalists in 1993. Today, to win the Champions League, you have to play thirteen matches , or even more if we start from the preliminary rounds.

Gerhard Aigner, who was UEFA general secretary between 1989 and 2003, said BBC that the European Cup was transformed into the Champions League because the competition suffered too much from the UEFA Cup competition – the current Europa League – in which more than one team per nation participated and in which, paradoxically , there were more teams from the main leagues. “From a commercial point of view, the UEFA Cup had more potential,” Aigner explained. During those years, the second continental tournament was won by Giovanni Trapattoni’s “record” Inter, Diego Armando Maradona’s Napoli, Juventus and twice also by Real Madrid.

In addition to changing its name and format, the Champions League has made a big change rebranding, drawing inspiration in particular from the strengths of North American sport and events such as the American football Super Bowl. Among the innovations introduced, the anthem that almost everyone recognizes today proved particularly effective, based on a cover of the music composed by Georg Friedrich Händel for the coronation of George II of Great Britain in 1727.

Barcelona-Udinese in the 2005 Champions League group stage (Luis Bagu/Getty Images)

From then on, the Champions League has kept more or less the same format, changing only the frequency and number of groups until the current form, which includes eight groups of four teams in a single phase, followed by elimination direct from the turn. from 16. Next season will therefore be the most radical change since the 90s: the groups will become a single championship of 36 teams (four more than the current participants in the groups), each of which will face eight different opponents established by draw .

To determine the eight opponents, the teams will be drawn into four different brackets: each of them will therefore face two opponents per bracket. According to UEFA, this will give “the opportunity to face a greater number of opponents and for fans the prospect of seeing the best teams compete more often and before the knockout stage, with a greater number of matches competitive from the start. Europe and the Conference League will also adopt similar formats.

This latest reform was announced in 2022, around a year after the attempt to split the twelve clubs promoting the Super League, a project which envisaged the creation of an independent UEFA tournament reserved for major European teams. According to the promoting clubs, notably Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, the Champions League would not have guaranteed the same income even with the current reform – then under study – due to its open format and subject to the results of the championships, and not reserved by right to teams with more fans.

The Super League project ended in an impasse and UEFA continues to defend the opening of the Champions League to teams who deserve to be there: on the one hand, it tried to respond to the needs of the big clubs with a reform which guarantees more places in the general classification, but also more places in the major championships and more high-level matches in a tournament which will take place over eleven months.

Source: ilpost

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