Mark Temnycky –
As Europe’s top football clubs prepare for the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europe League, a new competition will soon be in store. This is none other than the UEFA Europa Conference League. Planned for the 2021/22 season, the Conference League will be UEFA’s third-tier competition. The Conference League would welcome clubs from the lower-ranked European leagues, and it would restructure the Europa League’s group stage. Rather than having 48 teams at the start of the group stage, the Conference League would adopt some of these clubs, reducing the Europa League down to 32 clubs. The Conference League will also have 32 teams at the start of its group stage.
The competition will present new opportunities for the European continent’s forgotten leagues. Currently, the majority of the teams that compete in the annual Champions League are from Europe’s top ten leagues. As for the Europa League, these teams span from Europe’s top leagues to teams from the leagues ranked between tenth and thirtieth. Generally, the Europa League’s knockout stages feature clubs from Europe’s more competitive leagues, and the past several winners of this competition have been teams from Europe’s top five leagues.
The Conference League will allow for Europe’s forgotten rest to get in on the action. The finances from these broadcasted matches would help these lower-tier teams generate more revenue, and it would allow for viewers to become more familiar with the teams and leagues outside of the European top ten. The competition would also allow for some of these lesser leagues to become more competitive, where teams will face stiffer competition during this international club tournament.
Furthermore, the Conference League winner will automatically qualify for the Europa League during the following campaign. This will allow Europe’s lower leagues to compete for silverware while also presenting them with a chance to break into a higher tier of football.
The Conference League, however, is not without challenges. First, Conference League matches will be played on Thursdays, meaning the third-tier competition will have to compete for airtime with the more prestigious Europa League. Based on the level of competitiveness, it is likely that viewers would sway more toward watching Europa League football instead of the matches from the Conference League.
Second, teams that do not qualify for the Champions League and the Europa League would still have an opportunity to qualify for the Conference League. The clubs that finish in third following the conclusion of the Europa League group stages could also enter the Conference League’s knockout stages (these third-placed teams from the Europa League group stage would enter a playoff with the second-placed teams for the Conference League’s group stage). This would mean that teams from Europe’s stronger leagues would be more likely to win the competition rather than the teams that hail outside of Europe’s top twenty leagues.
Finally, teams that hail outside of Europe’s 15 top-ranked teams will be automatically placed into Conference League contention. This means that clubs from the leagues ranked sixteenth and below will no longer be eligible for Europa League qualification unless they win the Conference League competition.
Overall, the UEFA Europa Conference League is a good idea in theory as it will involve clubs from Europe’s forgotten leagues. No one is sure what will transpire during the Conference League’s inaugural season, but this new tournament presents Europe’s lower-ranked teams with an opportunity to showcase themselves at the international level. The Conference League is forecasted to run for at least three seasons (2021/22, 2022/23 and 2023/24), so time will tell what will occur.
Mark Temnycky is an AIPS accredited journalist who covers the Ukrainian men’s national team and Ukrainian clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the Futbolgrad Network. Follow him @MTemnycky