UEFA Champions League Primer

One of the reasons it is so important for an English football club to be so competitive in the Premier League is the qualification for the UEFA Champions League. This is a very lucrative continental tournament for all the club teams in European football, and is second to only the World Cup in worldwide viewership among football competitions.
Part of the reason for this is the prize money associated with the various stages of the tournament. The winning team can expect to share in a prize that approaches $100M, which averages out to about $5M per player. That is not pocket change, even for some of the highest paid players in Europe. They also share in money from the “market pool,” which is distributed based on value of the media market in the winning country.
The top four league based on UEFA coefficient – Spain, Germany, England, and Italy – each place four teams in the tournament every year. This is typically determined by the finishing order from the previous year’s league, though there are exceptions that may allow for teams to place more than their allocation based on the league’s performance in other leagues. For example, the winner of the UEFA Europa League, another continental competition for nearly all of the European club teams, is guaranteed a spot in the following year’s Champions League. If that team doesn’t qualify otherwise, like finishing in the top four in their league, they are given a spot, though no country can have more than five teams in the tournament.
If a team fails to win the Champions League, they get dumped into the UEFA Europa League tournament* depending on when they lose, as long as it is before the Knockout Stage. It is therefore impossible to win both leagues in the same season, though two teams from the same football association can win, as Spain had last year with Real Madrid winning the Champions League and Atlético Madrid sewing up the Europa League. While not nearly as prestigious, a Europa League title is another way to get into the Champions League during the following season, subject to the same limitations (no more than five teams from each country) as mentioned previously.
*I’ll cover the Europa League more in depth in another post.
The UEFA coefficient marks the English Premier League as the third strongest league in Europe, and the success of English teams in the tournament has been limited over the 26 completed seasons of the Premier League. The last EPL team to win was Chelsea in 2012, though Liverpool did lose in the final to Real Madrid last year and all five EPL teams in the tournament made it through to the knockout phase.
Real Madrid has won three Champions League titles in a row, and they will be back again this year, though they it remains to be seen if they can fill the Cristiano Ronaldo-size hole in their line up after his stunning move to Juventus a couple weeks ago. He led the tournament in scoring in last year’s iteration, and Juventus will be in the mix this year too, so we’ll have to see if this move opens up the Champions League a bit more than usual this year.
Nevertheless, the English Premier League will be represented by its top four finishers from a year ago: Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool. As mentioned previously, Liverpool lost in the final last year, defeating Manchester City in the quarterfinals along the way. Ronaldo’s new team Juventus knocked out the Spurs in the Round of 16, and Manchester United lost to Sevilla in the same round. I’m sure the Premier League teams would be satisfied with a return to the Knockout Stage, but winning the entire tournament would be even sweeter.
This year’s Champions League has already began, with the preliminary round – featuring the champions from the bottom four associations according to the UEFA coefficient (Kosovo, San Marino, Andorra, and Gibraltar) – being won by FC Drita from Kosovo, the first time that a Kosovan team had ever won a game in UEFA competition. the first qualifying round is also complete, featuring FC Drita and the 31 champions from the next lower leagues (20-51 on that list, excluding Liechtenstein). Drita’s Cinderella run was ended at the feet of Malmö FF from Sweden, but chances are the other 16 teams moving on from this round will see the Champions League journey end after the next round too.
We are a few months away from the group stage, which is when the Premier League teams show up, but we will follow the proceedings and break down the draw when it finally happens on August 30th. In the meantime, the teams will continue to build their teams through the transfer market, as well as play a few Premier League fixtures as well. By the time the matches conclude for the group stage, each team should be playing their best and we will see why the Champions League is one of the most anticipated tournaments of the year.
Until next time…

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