The unnecessary UEFA rule change that will directly affect Arsenal, Man City, and Liverpool next season

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UEFA announced major changes to the format of the Champions League and other continental competitions this week.

You know what they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Unless you're UEFA, of course, in which case, if it ain't broke, break it yourself so that you can put it back together in a much shoddier fashion. On Monday, the governing body released a video hosted by former Blue Peter presenter Ayo Akinwolere detailing the format changes that the Champions League will undergo from next season onwards. The script might as well have read, 'Here's a mess we made earlier'.

Starting in 2024/25, the premier competition in European football, and its pastier siblings, the Europa League and Europa Conference League, will do away with group stages entirely. Instead, they will be replaced in each instance by a single 36-team league table. Participating clubs will then be drawn to play eight other sides in the division, based on seeded pots, except in the Conference League, where each team will only face six opponents. So far, so unnecessarily complex.

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In the Champions and Europa Leagues, after four home and four away matches, the top eight clubs in this new monolithic division automatically go through to the last 16. Teams who finish between ninth and 24th will contest a knockout play-off round for the honour of joining, while the peasants left languishing the bottom twelve will be sent packing like Kirk van Houten from the cracker factory. From the last 16 onwards, it's pretty much the same old, same old - two legged ties and a single showpiece final.

UEFA's reasoning behind their sudden shift in direction is not wholly clear. In their fancy clip, they lean heavily on buzz words and phrases like 'fast-changing', 'unpredictable', and 'thrilling new future', but you might forgive more cynical onlookers from suspecting that it has more to do with another voguish phenomenon, 'TV rights money'.

Regardless of intention, this feels like a convoluted regression for continental competition in Europe. For decades, there was nothing wrong with the Champions League. You can argue about the injustices at a domestic level that rendered it an inaccessible dreamland for the vast majority of clubs, but as for the tournament itself, the thing was simple, pulsating, and enthralling. It afforded both an arena for heavyweight slug-fests and scope for the odd upset here and there along the way. It trusted in the quality of its product as its USP, and it thrived because of it.

But then the tinkerers started tinkering. Do you really want to improve the Champions League ahead of next season, lads? Give us back our away goals, you pencil-pushing cowards! Or how about prioritising broadcast rights that allow a greater proportion of continental supporters to actually watch matches, rather than hiding them behind voracious subscription models and paywalls? If you want to excite viewers and reconnect with fans, maybe try stepping backwards rather than ploughing on towards a brave new future that nobody asked for.

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None of this is to say that the new format will be irredeemably dreadful. In a few years, we'll be so numb to it that we won't even be able to remember the before times anyways. That's how they get you, see. But at the very least, there is no denying that these alterations are cumbersome and unnecessary. This just another example of UEFA desperately needing to brush up on its working knowledge of The Big Book of Idioms and Irksome Platitudes. Like we've already established, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and sometimes, less really is more.

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