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What exactly is the Europa Conference League?

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With the aim of making the Europa League a more exclusive competition, UEFA, in 2018, formed the UEFA Europa Conference League.

Since 2015, UEFA have been trying to create a new third-tier competition to provide the clubs from smaller nations to participate in a UEFA competition. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin stated that there is a widespread demand for a competition that is more accommodating for teams from smaller nations.

This gave birth to the UEFA Europa League 2 in 2018 which was later termed as the UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) in 2019.

QUALIFICATION PROCESS:

Unlike other UEFA competitions, no team will be provided guaranteed entry into the group stages of the UECL, as there will be four qualifying rounds. However, the round in which each club will enter will be decided on their league’s UEFA co-efficient rank.

For example- the 7th placed team from England, whose UEFA co-efficient rank is 1, will play the final qualifying round. On the other hand, a club from Andorra’s league will play all the qualifying rounds as its UEFA co-efficient rank is 54. 

The number of clubs participating from each country/league shall also be determined based on that league’s UEFA co-efficient rank. The number of clubs will be categorized as follows:

  • 1 team each from the league/country with a UEFA co-efficient rank between 1-5
  • 2 teams each from the league/country with a UEFA co-efficient rank between 6-15
  • 3 teams each from the league/country with a UEFA co-efficient rank between 16-50
  • 2 teams each from the league/country with a UEFA co-efficient rank between 51-55

It must also be noted that Lichtenstein will only provide one Cup winner due to a lack of a league structure.

Thus, after the four qualifying rounds, 32 teams will be distributed into 8 groups of 4 teams each. The top 2 teams will qualify for the next round, however, this is where it gets a little complicated. 

The 8 Group winners will qualify for the Round of 16, while the 8 teams that finished as runners-up in their group will play the 8 teams that finished 3rd in their UEFA Europa League group in the Round of 32. Thus, the winners of the Round of 32 will play the 8 group winners of the Conference league, post which, the competition will follow a similar structure of quarter-final, semi-final, and final. 

The winners of the UEFA Europa Conference League will secure a place in next year’s Europa League.

WHEN WILL EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE START?

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UEFA Europa Cconference League is set to start for an initial three years from the 2021/22 season until the 2023/24 season until the UEFA reforms kick in for the new structure of the UEFA Champions League. The competition will take place alongside the UEFA Europa League on Thursday nights, with the kickoffs scheduled at 5:45 pm and 8 pm UK time. 

The 2021/22 UECL final will be played on the 25th of May in Albania’s national Arena in Tirana.

HOW MANY PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS NOW QUALIFY FOR THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, EUROPA LEAGUE, AND THE EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE?

England will only have a maximum of 4 clubs participating in the Champions League unless the fifth-placed side wins the Champions League. 

The Europa League is open to only two teams, the FA Cup winners and the 5th placed Premier League side. If a team from the Top 5 wins the FA Cup, like Leicester City have this season, then the 6th placed side will also qualify for the Europa League. 

The Europa Conference League will only be open to 1 team, i.e., the Carabao Cup winners. However, with Manchester City winning the competition this year, it will go to the next English team that has not qualified for a European competition i.e 7th placed Tottenham Hotspur.

WHAT ARE THE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES?

Financially speaking, this is a move in the right direction for clubs from smaller nations as it would provide them with a lot more exposure and better sponsorship deals. Given the size of TV deals UEFA currently have in place for the Champions League and Europa League, many clubs are bound to receive far more financial support than they previously received from UEFA. With every team in the UEFA Europa league receiving €2.9 million for just qualifying for the group stage, this could change a whole lot for countries like San Marino and Andorra.

While the prize money for different rounds of the UECL have not been revealed yet, it is a game-changer in every sense for clubs from smaller nations.

On the other hand, the clubs from Europe’s Top 5 leagues will be suffering due to the UECL as it would increase their match load by an extra 15 games, and for them, the finances the competition has to offer are meagre. For example- Tottenham Hotspur who have qualified for the Europa League will have to play 15 more games for a very meagre financial return, unlike the Europa League and the UEFA Champions League which provide a far more reasonable revenue to run a club of Tottenham’s size.

The competition is set to start by mid-July, and UEFA will now have three competitions in midweek, increasing their viewership, finances, and most importantly, the number of clubs, as it aims to build a model accommodating all the countries in Europe.

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