Michel Platini said today that UEFA is considering scrapping the Europa League with a view to a possible 64-team Champions League. The driving force behind the structure of competition at the European club level for the last 20 years has been bargaining between the big clubs, hwo wonder if they couldn’t do better going it alone, and UEFA, which in this context really represents the smaller countries.
The logic of a breakaway, as it was for the English Premier League, is to control broadcast revenues. But unlike the EPL it is also about the structure of competition. The top European clubs seldom play each other if they are in different countries, but given the attractiveness of watching, say, Messi line up against Philipp Lahm, or Ronaldo trying to break down an Italian defence, there are potentially large financial returns to finding a way to make it happen.
A 64 team Champions League could be interesting depending on how it was done. The obvious thing to do is just double the size of the groups in the first stage to eight teams, so that every team would get 14 group games instead of 6. However, if the groups were seeded, then it could end up just as boring as the current group stages which (barring some honourable exceptions) pitch minnows against whales with predictable results.
However, to borrow from the Americans, one approach would be to have each team play the members of their group only once (with home advantage decided by lottery) and then play the remaining 7 games against other teams with the closest UEFA coefficient, as a way to allow the big teams to play each other more often. This would have the added bonus of giving a small advantage to some of the weaker teams and so making the groups more competitive.