Greetings, Glancers! We interrupt our usual programming to bring you this mouthful. Y’all should know by now that I spend about 95% of the day inside my own head – it’s a great place to be and it leads to such nonsense as this. If you’re a football fan, and even if you’re not, you probably heard about the Sport-shattering shenanigans of this past week involving 12 European Clubs signing up to join a breakaway ‘Super League’ as an alternative to the longstanding Premier European Club Tournament – The Champions League. While on the surface, some of the reasons for this were sound, noble even, and perhaps inspired by a want for improvement. The Champions League format will be changing soon, creating even more matches for those who qualify, further congesting a packed calendar which will naturally make success more difficult and injuries more likely. I don’t like it. No-one likes it. It’s all about money. Somehow though, the Super League is worse.
The Super League got it wrong from the start – offering inclusion to a series of clubs seen as ‘the best’ in Europe. There are easy ways to gauge ‘the best’ – UEFA (the governing body) has been running a point coefficient system for years, to show the current ranking of every team on the Continent. That wasn’t used though, because the Billionaires in charge want the most profitable, famous, and richest teams involved who also have a bit of a European pedigree (apparently). Out of the 12 clubs, 6 were from England, including my beloved Liverpool. Liverpool is one of the most successful clubs in European history. Man Utd have won everything. Chelsea have had successes in recent years. Man City have won nothing, but are one of the richest clubs in the world. Arsenal used to be good, but are a joke now. Tottenham…. the less said the better. The club selection was one of the many farces surrounding this.
The next, and perhaps most egregious, is the fact that it was designed to be a closed competition. These 12 teams would always be there, and each would always earn 350 million for being involved each year. Rather than the yearly scramble for wins to get into the top few positions in the league required to qualify for the elite European competitions, for these 12 teams it wouldn’t matter where they finished – Tottenham could finish 15th in the League and they would still get in. For that money, why bother even trying to finish high in the League? What about the other teams who finish higher? They don’t get in, they don’t get the money or the ‘big matches’? It’s a mess. Thankfully, due to immense fan pressure, most clubs have since pulled out of the system and apologised to fans and staff. Worst of all for me, is that the people who made the decision just went ahead and did it – zero consultation with managers, staff, players, or fans. They tried to force through the biggest change in European football for decades, without letting the bill payers or performers have any say. Every single one of these scumbags should be held to account – the frothing media claiming clubs should be suspended, removed from leagues, docked points – that is all useless scaremongering. If clubs had been involved in the decision beyond the owners, by all means they should be punished.
But all this got me thinking. While I enjoy the current European set up with the Champions League and Europa League, I don’t think it’s perfect. There should be more involvement from other nations and smaller clubs. Elitists will point to the fact that they don’t want to watch small teams play and inevitably be smashed by the big boys. I do, and what’s more, it’s fair. Now I’m under no illusion that it would be unfair to have a Champions League which only features the winners of each League – teams may miss out on winning their league by a single point, a single goal, a single VAR mistake. The biggest leagues simply are more deserving of having more teams involved in the top competitions. But all leagues should be represented. It gives a chance for smaller teams to earn more money and actually improve, it gives them a once in a lifetime opportunity to play against the best, and it increases the opportunity for those ‘giant-killer’ matches the media loves so much.
Personally, I’m not a fan of massive qualifying rounds like you see before the Champions League and Europa League. They’re pointless, they’re almost never televised, and when they are nobody watches them anyway. Likewise, I’m not a fan of play-offs. If you spend an entire season winning points and reach a certain position, that position should be rewarded. I’m also all for less games on the calendar for individual teams, but more games in total. What that means is a revamp to the two existing European tournaments, and a ‘new’ third one. Read on to hear about my proposed changes.
First up, there should be three European club tournaments. Over the decades there have been instances of three tournaments – the Inter Toto cup, the Cup Winners Cup etc. While each of the three Tournaments are classed as Elite Club Championships, there is a tiering system with the Champions League being the best of the best, the Europa League for the Runner Up type teams, and the Third Cup being for… well I may as well say it now… it’s basically a revamped Cup Winners Cup. Obviously money and all of that crap comes into it, but basically the better the tier the more money, but ultimately each competition affords all entrants the chance and ability to earn for income, success, and respect.
My next revamp is to the format of the existing competitions; no more league/group stages but each competition should be a two-leg knockout cup. My third revamp involves increasing the number of teams involved in each competition – from 32 to 64. Next, I’ll be removing seeding because that is too much of an elitist invention to protect the bigger clubs and ensure they last the longest in each tournament – in my competition anyone can play anyone at any time, so cry me a river. My final revamp involves scrapping the qualification rounds altogether – qualification will be based on League and Cup success in each respective Domestic competition. So that’s it – simple yeah? Let me know your thoughts in the…. wait wait wait. You didn’t actually think I was done yet, did you? Oh no, we’re only getting started. When you spend time in my head, you don’t get to simply walk away.
I’m going through each of these proposed new tournaments, talking about the set-up and qualification process, then I’m going to cover each of the 55 Countries who make up European football and how their qualification process should work, then I’m going to look at who should have qualified for each competition based on last season’s results, then I’m going to assign each team a numeric value from 1-64, and finally I’m going to make my own Cup draw for each competition and show you the proposed first round fixtures for each. Why. Why. Why.
The Champions League – the best of the best, formally known as The European Cup. There are just too many matches and even if you get knocked out in the first round you still have to play six matches. You can keep the name, though the ‘league part’ doesn’t really make sense if we’re abandoning the group stages, so lets call it The European Champions Cup. We’re increasing the number of teams who qualify from 32 to 64. Each round, except for the final, would feature a Home and an Away leg. Therefore finalists would play maximum of eleven matches. Money lost by having less matches in the group stages would be offset by the gains made in having 64 matches in the first round. These would obviously be spread over a number of weeks so the Telly channels get maximum bang for their buck. Who should qualify?
There are currently 55 independent nations in Europe, and 54 of those have their own Football Leagues. The winner of each Top Level League in each Country automatically qualifies. Qualification is based on League Results only, Cups are not considered. This gives 54 teams with a wide range of quality and leaves 10 spots remaining. I’m torn on this next piece, because I originally thought there were only 50 countries which left 14 remaining spots, which gave a bit more freedom about the next teams to qualify. I’m left with two options. Either those ten spots are made up the 2nd and 3rd place finishers from Europe’s Top 5 Leagues: England, Spain, Germany, France, Italy. Or, the first five spots are completed by the 2nd place finisher in the first five leagues, and the final five are from the 2nd place finisher from the next five Top Leagues in Europe. Rather than the current flawed coefficient points system, the Top Leagues will be scored on points table based on team finishes within the 3 Cup Tournaments. Winner = 20 Points. Runner Up = 15 Points. Semi = 10 Points. Quarter = 8 Points. 3rd Round = 4 points. 2nd Round = 2 points. 1st Round = 1 point. The most likely final 5 spots would be from Greece, Russia, Portugal, Holland… Denmark/Ukraine/Belgium etc. The first option is probably more favourable to the money men as it brings more of the big names, plus it’s easier, so lets go with that for now.
The Second competition would be a revised Europa League. Lets call it The Europa Cup. Similar to the above set up, the current 48 teams would become 64, and it would be another Knockout tournament only. Finalists would play maximum of eleven matches. There would be no more of the teams kicked out of the Champions League dropping into the Europa League and there would be no Group Stages or Qualifying rounds. Qualification is based on League Results only. Qualifiers are made up of the next highest finisher from each of the Top 54 Leagues who did not qualify for Champions Cup, so based on Option 1 above it would be the 4th place finisher from England, Spain etc, and the second place finisher from Sweden, Poland, Scotland etc. 10 Spots Remaining – these would be made up of next highest finisher from the Top 10 Leagues in Europe, using same pointing system outlined above. The Top Ten Leagues based on the UEFA coefficient for last season are England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, Holland, Russia, Belgium, and Ukraine so for the sake of this post I’m going to pick those rather than trying to use my own points system – I haven’t got all day.
Our final, newest competition may be the most interesting in terms of qualification, and maybe in terms of teams involved. It’s the revamped Cup Winners Cup, so lets just call it the Cup Winners Cup. Many of the big nations have more than one domestic Cup competition. The winner of each domestic cup competition automatically qualifies. If a team wins a Cup and finishes high enough in the league to qualify for one of the other two European competitions, they can either choose to also play in the Cup Winners Cup, or offer their place to the Runner Up. Similarly, if the Runner Up has already qualified, they would pass their position over to the 3rd place team within said Cup. To spice things up, most domestic cups don’t bother with a 3rd place play-off, so the 3rd and 4th team may need to play a qualifying match against each other. This is a great opportunity for the smaller teams in the bigger leagues to get some travel, new fans, and bonus money. Just to ensure teams don’t start randomly creating 2nd Domestic Cup competitions for the sole purpose of getting into Europe, lets place a ten year limit on new Cups – it has to exist for 10 Seasons before a team is eligible to qualify for Europe. If it does ever reach that point, I’m happy expanding this (somehow) to a 128 team knockout, because that would be fucking ridiculous. For the sake of this post, if the winner of the Cup has already qualified, I’ll try to pick the next club. Sadly, no system is perfect and by my count this gives me only 60 teams, leaving 4 open spots. The Dutch Cup Final was called off so I’m going to just add both finalists which means 3 open spots. There’s no good way of assigning those – most goals scored, best Nations runner up again? Random? Just be like Eurovision and invite Australia and some other Countries? Lets go the Runner up route in Top 10 Countries, who haven’t qualified for some other competition.
I did spend a couple of minutes wondering if the Current Champions League format should simply be retained, except only the Top 4 teams from the Top 8 Countries qualify. Then there would be some slight modifications to my plans for the Europa League, and I pondered having a 4th Cup which would allow the runners up from smaller leagues and a few smaller teams from bigger leagues their chance for silverware. But balls to that.
Before going through each Country, let me deal with some of the criticisms you’ve likely been spouting:
‘You’re an idiot’ – never said I wasn’t. In any case, settle down, none of this will ever happen (even though it clearly should).
‘I only want to see the best teams’ – then only watch those matches. People will watch what they want. There is a high chance for many Crap Unknown Team versus Crap Unknown team matches, but those still happen now in the Champions League. How about we give the Crap Unknown Teams a chance to get better and become known?
‘Half of these teams are semi-professional and don’t have adequate Stadium facilities’ – to me, that’s fantastic. Teams may qualify with a shared stadium, or a pitch with only 1000 capacity, and they may get Real Madrid in the first round. That’s hilarious to me. It happens currently in the FA Cup and it’s a great way for the multi-millionaires to show that it’s about the game, the fans, and not the money. If the big boys don’t want to field their best players, that’s fine. They risk being knocked out. The potential rewards for the smaller teams getting on this world stage far outweigh the grumblings of the elite.
‘I don’t like football’ – get a job, hippy.
Countries By Loose Ascending Ranking (and their most recent qualifiers):
Liechenstein: Only has 7 teams, and these teams play in the Swiss Football League. Therefore there is a high chance that no team from Liechenstein will ever qualify for any of the three European Club competitions.
San Marino: Famously one of the worst National teams in the world (perhaps unfair because they compete in Europe), San Marino nevertheless has its own league with 15 teams.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Tre Fiori
Europa Cup Qualifier: Folgore (with their awesome 700 capacity stadium)
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Tre Fiori
Malta: For a country with a population of around half a million, Malta has a fully fledged League and Cup football system. Its Premier League contains 16 teams.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Floriana
Europa Cup Qualifier: Valletta
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Balzan (whose Ground is part of a School)
Andorra: With a population lower than 80000, Andorra is unsurprisingly not a European Football powerhouse. Their position between the powerhouses of France and Spain does mean they know a thing or two about the game.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Inter Escaldes
Europa Cup Qualifier: FC Santa Coloma
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Inter Escaldes
Latvia: Perennial competitors against my own Northern Ireland, Latvia have a regular League and Cup system.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Riga FC
Europa Cup Qualifier: RFS
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: FK RFS
Faroe Islands: Another Country which acts as the whipping boys for everyone else, they have been better in recent years.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Havnar Boltfelag
Europa Cup Qualifier: NSI Runavik
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: HB or Vikingur
Gibraltar: This is where things get silly, as ‘The Rock’ has a population of less than 35000 – less than the capacity of most Premier League stadiums. Being a British territory, it has one of the longest histories of football in the world and they somehow have a domestic cup and multiple leagues.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Europa
Europa Cup Qualifier: ST Joseph’s
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Europa
Moldova: One of the more recent Countries, and one of several forming from the collapse of the USSR, Moldova still has a Cup and set of Leagues.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Sheriff Teraspol
Europa Cup Qualifier: Sfintul Gheorghe
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Petrocub Hincesti
Kazakhstan: Until recently the Kazakhstan Premier League was quite competitive, with 9 different Champions in its 29 year history – though Astana has dominated recently with 6 Titles in a row.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Kairat
Europa Cup Qualifier: Tobol
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Kaisar
Azerbaijan: Sadly the most famous piece of football history in Azerbaijan was that they were banned for 2 years by UEFA due to fraud.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Qarabag
Europa Cup Qualifier: Neftki Baku
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Gabala
Armenia: Another recent Eastern Bloc country, like others, Armenia has failed to qualify for any major national tournament. Also like other, their stadium sizes are fairly small and my be interesting if the big boys come to play.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Ararat Armenia
Europa Cup Qualifier: Lori
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Noah
Luxembourg: At the risk of sounding repetitive – another small nation with leagues and cup.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: F91 Dudelange
Europa Cup Qualifier: Fola Esch
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Etzella Ettelbruck
Belarus: We’re getting to the more interesting countries now. Another former Soviet Union State, Belarus has only been around since the early 90s, but one of their teams has appeared numerous times in the Champion’s League, and two teams have been regulars in the Europa League (famously BATE was knocked out on goal difference by PSG in 2010-2011). At least this way they won’t have the long slog of qualifying rounds.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Shakhtyor Soligorsk
Europa Cup Qualifier: BATE
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: BATE Borisov or Dynamo Brest
Kosovo: For a Country you probably know nothing about (beyond War) it has an impressive number of clubs and competitions.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Drita
Europa Cup Qualifier: Gjilani
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Prishtina
North Macedonia: The Country seems to be on an upward cycle, having narrowly missed out on winning Eurovision (if you’re into that sort of thing) and having qualified for Euro 2020 (or 2021 as it’s now called).
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Vardar
Europa Cup Qualifier: Sileks
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Akademija Pandev
Georgia: You know the story – former USSR – fairly new.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Dinamo Tblisi
Europa Cup Qualifier: Dinamo Batumi
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Saburtalo
Lithuania: See above.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Zalgiris Vilnius
Europa Cup Qualifier: Sudova
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: FK Panevezys
Slovenia: See above, but replace USSR with Yugoslavia.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Celja
Europa Cup Qualifier: Maribor
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Mura
Estonia: Estonia is one of those countries which looks set to finally begin qualifying for one of the major International competitions one of these years as those in charge change the rules to be more inclusive and expansive. As yet, the country has qualified for nowt.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Flora
Europa Cup Qualifier: Paide Linnameedskonde
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Narva Trans.
Cyprus: As a separate entity from Greece, Cyprus deserves its own representation. APOEL famously made it to the Quarter Finals of The Champions League in 2012 and has qualified on three other occasions. They also pop up in the Europa League from time to time, so they are not to be taken lightly.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: APOEL
Europa Cup Qualifier: Apollon Limassol
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: AEL Limassol
Montenegro: Splitting from Serbia in 2006, Montenegro is one of the most recent independent nations. As such the domestic league system has only been around for a couple of decades.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Budocnost
Europa Cup Qualifier: Sutjeska
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Lovcen (member of third league!)
Albania: We’re getting into the lower tier of nations who do actually qualify for major Championships.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: KF Tirana
Europa Cup Qualifier: Kukesi
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Tueta
Greece: Greek teams have been a mainstay of top tier European competition for decades, but in recent years they’ve fallen away a bit not least due to their economy crisis. Nevertheless, there’s always at least couple of Greek Teams in the major tournaments – this new system will ensure they keep up the trend.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Olympiacos
Europa Cup Qualifier: PAOK
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Olympiacos or AEK.
Romania: Romania had a Golden Age when I was growing up in the 90s, but they haven’t quite kept up in the decades since, remaining a periphery nation. Romania has had two major domestic competitions over the years, but their League Cup was recently abolished again leaving a solo Cup. Currently the League winners qualify for the 3rd Qualifying round of the Champion’s League, with the Cup Winner and 2nd and 3rd place League finishers making it to the Europa League qualification rounds. With my system, teams would be guaranteed a spot. Two teams have dominated Romanian football since the beginning, but recently those two teams have been outwitted and been much less successful on their own turf.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: CFR Cluj
Europa Cup Qualifier: Universitatea Craiova
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Steaua Bucuresti
Hungary: Once a European powerhouse with one of the most successful teams in history, Hungary dipped into a deep decline for several decades. All points suggest a bit of a recent resurgence, though domestic teams have never had much success on the bigger stages. 4 teams make it to the qualifying rounds of the Euro Competitions currently, similar to Romania.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Ferencvarosi
Europa Cup Qualifier: Fehervar
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Budapest Honved
Israel: I’m not sure why Israel football is ranked so highly, given they have not really achieved anything. They do compete on some of those other Cups that no-one cares about, but they’ve only appeared in a single World Cup and their domestic teams have not achieved much. Recent years have seen an impressive run list of appearances though. Current qualification is much the same as Hungary, however Israel does have two domestic Cups.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Maccabi Tel Aviv
Europa Cup Qualifier: Maccabi Haifa
Cup Winners Cup Qualifiers: Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Beitar Jerusalem
Bulgaria: Like Romania, these boys had a Golden Age in the 90s, but not much since. A number of domestic teams are mainstays in the Europa League currently.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Ludogorets Razgrad
Europa Cup Qualifier: Locomotiv Plovdiv
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Locomotiv Plovdiv or CSKA Sofia
Finland: The least successful of the major Nordic nations, Finnish domestic football isn’t exactly known for setting the continent on fire, with their biggest stars moving to bigger leagues.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: HJK
Europa Cup Qualifier: FC Inter Turku
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: HJK or FC Inter Turku.
Serbia: Now on its own after Montenegro split, Serbia still has a decent enough record in National and Domestic spaces, including memorably beating Germany in the World Cup (though followed up by losing to Australia). On the domestic front, teams from Serbia have been both finalists and winner in the major European competitions, though those days seem to be long gone.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Red Star Belgrade
Europa Cup Qualifier: Partizan
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Vojvodina
Norway: Norway has competed at the highest levels a few times in their history, but are not exactly a regular. Domestically quite competitive, with 17 League winners in less than 100 years, those clubs are not overly successful on the European front.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Bodo
Europa Cup Qualifier: Molde
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Viking
Scotland: While Scotland has produced a few all time great players and managers, their International form is poor compared with their neighbours, and their domestic League is dominated by two teams. Those teams do have a fairly decent record in Europe (along with a few notable exceptions in previous decades from other teams), and with my system we’re basically guaranteeing that Rangers and/or Celtic will be there every year. Plus we have genuinely big stadiums to host big teams. Scotland also has two Domestic Cups.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Celtic
Europa Cup Qualifier: Rangers
Cup Winners Cup Qualifiers: Hearts
Northern Ireland: As a Northern Ireland bloke, I have no qualms about saying our football is terrible. Sub-standard. Awful. But then again I’m not a patriot and couldn’t name a single player from our current squad. Billy Balaclava? Jonty Spud? George Best? The domestic front is a farce, with little or no dent on European football, but the National Team has improved in recent years to reaching the point of almost qualifying for things rather than being the laughing stock of the home nations. It amuses me no end imaging the likes of Barcelona and Liverpool possibly playing against Glentoran in the Champions League. We do have two cups, so it increases the chances of glory/hilarity.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Linfield
Europa Cup Qualifier: Crusaders
Cup Winners Cup Qualifiers: Glentoran and Coleraine
Republic Of Ireland: Heading South of the border and things are only marginally better. The national team has had a fair go at things one or two times, but domestically there isn’t a huge history of success. At least my system guarantees a couple of clubs will be showcased worldwide.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Shamrock Rovers
Europa Cup Qualifier: Bohemians
Cup Winners Cup Qualifiers: Dundalk and Derry City
Turkey: Every so often Turkey sees a spike in performance both domestically and on the national side, though their domestic football teams see more consistently good results, with the same handful of teams outperforming the rest of the Turkish clubs.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Istanbul Basaksehir
Europa Cup Qualifier: Beziktas
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Trabzonspor
Slovakia: Slovakia have done well since splitting from the Czechs, and as a new independent nation they have had plenty of success – historically of course Czechoslovakia was a middling force in World football for 50 years.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Slovan Bratislava
Europa Cup Qualifier: Zilina
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Slovan Bratislava or MFK Ruzomberok.
Czech Republic: We’re getting into the big boys now. The Czech Republic had one of the best National teams I’ve ever seen for a period in the late 90s to early 2000s. It just so happened that other teams had their own brilliant individual players. A couple of the domestic clubs have real European heritage, though the lack of wins and finalists keeps them lower down the pecking order.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Slavia Prague
Europa Cup Qualifier: Viktoria Plzen
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Sparta Prague
Wales: The least successful of the home nations historically, with Wales being more of a Rugby country, Wales has seen one of the largest jumps in quality and success of any Country recently. On the domestic front, their best teams play in the English Leagues instead, but they do still have their own league and cups giving teams a better, but still small, chance of playing in Europe. Under my system, a couple will be guaranteed.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Connah’s Quay Nomads
Europa Cup Qualifier: The New Saints
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: The New Saints and Connah’s Quay Nomads or STM Sports
Austria: Austria is one of those Countries which surprises me when they are so high in the rankings. Sure they’ve been in plenty of World Cups, but haven’t achieved much. Domestically, it is only in recent years that a small number of clubs have been making waves in Europe, typically feeding bigger teams with great players, yet still achieving.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: RB Salzburg
Europa Cup Qualifier: LASK
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: RB Salzburg or SC Austria Lustenau
Russia (Top 10 Nation): The dissolution of the Soviet Union had the impact of creating a bunch of independent nations with their own teams, but didn’t really slow or change Russia’s progress or quality. Russia either always qualifies or almost qualifies, and a few of their domestic teams have a rich history in Europe.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Zenit St Petersburg
Europa Cup Qualifier: Lokomotive Moscow and Krasnodar
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Zenit St Petersburg or Khimki.
Sweden: Sweden have been so close to winning a number of times, and as such they are a significant European force. The domestic league is less impressive, with most if not all of the best players quickly being snapped up elsewhere.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Malmo
Europa Cup Qualifier: IF Elsborg
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: IFK Goteborg
Denmark: The most successful Nordic nation, Denmark’s fame is largely down to winning the Euros in 1992. Since then, their appearances and successes have been average. On the Domestic front, Danish teams tend to fare better in the Europa League but have had various impacts within the Champions League.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: FC Midtjylland
Europa Cup Qualifier: Copenhagen
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Sonderjyske
Ukraine (Top 10 Nation): The biggest success since splitting from the USSR, Ukraine have had a number of high performing players leading to impressive appearances on the World and European stages, though they have been on a downward slide. Domestically two clubs dominate, and both clubs have a strong history in Europe, including Championship wins.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Shakhtar Donetsk
Europa Cup Qualifier: Dynamo Kyiv and Zorya Luhansk
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Dynamo Kyiv or Vorskla Poltava
Bosnia & Herzogovina: The breakaways from Yugoslavia with the second most success, even if success is a bit of a stretch given they’ve only qualified for a single World Cup.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Sarajevo
Europa Cup Qualifier: Zeljeznicar
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Sarajevo or Siroki Brijeg
Iceland: These guys came from nowhere, then took the world by storm in the 2010s. Like many of the nations above I’m sure this success or hype won’t last, but it has been enjoyable watching a bunch of unknowns from a Country known more for being ‘oh so quiet (sssh…. sssssh)’ topple the big boys.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Valur
Europa Cup Qualifier: Breioablik
Cup Winners Cup Qualifiers: KR, FH, and Vikingur Reykjavik
Germany (Top 5 Nation): I don’t know Germany is ranked so low on this coefficient list, but there you go. It’s Germany – you know them, you know their clubs.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig.
Europa Cup Qualifier: Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayern Leverkusen
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Bayern Leverkusen or Bayerm Munich
Poland: Winners once at the Olympics (which no-one really cares about, but should) and fairly frequent also-rans at the World Cup and the Euros, I don’t think anyone considers Poland or the Polish league as better than, or even on par with Germany. But there you go.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Legia Warsaw
Europa Cup Qualifier: Piast Gliwice
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Cracovia and Lechia Gdasnk
Croatia: The biggest success story of the Yugoslavia split, Croatia have been more successful than the likes of England in the last 30 years, finishing 3rd and 2nd in World Cups. Their domestic competitions don’t match the success of their international team as once again the best players move to the big leagues.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Dinamo Zagreb
Europa Cup Qualifier: Lokomotiva
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Rijeka
Italy (Top 5 Nation): You know the Country, the teams, the players.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Juventus. Inter Milan. Atalanta.
Europa Cup Qualifier: Lazio. Roma.
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Napoli and Juventus.
Spain: (Top 5 Nation): You know the Country, the teams, the players.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Real Madrid. Barcelona. Athletico Madrid.
Europa Cup Qualifier: Sevilla. Villareal.
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Real Sociodad and Athletic Bilbao.
Belgium (Top 10 Nation): Belgium was a nothing team for decades, then had a Golden Age in the 80s -90s, and then in the early Noughties the odd very good player would pop up and there were whisperings of a new power rising in the East. Suddenly a batch of very very good players came at the same time, propelling Belgium into the big time. Will it last? Domestically the nation has a hit and miss history, with a few sides notable for their successes.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Club Brugge.
Europa Cup Qualifier: Gent. Charleroi.
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Antwerp
France (Top 5 Nation): You know the Country, the teams, the players.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: PSG. Marseille. Rennes.
Europa Cup Qualifier: Lille. Nice
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: PSG or St Etienne and Lyon.
Portugal (Top 10 Country): The underperformer when rated alongside neighbours Spain, Portugal have nevertheless had a lot of success domestically, and recently as a Country.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Porto
Europa Cup Qualifier: Benfica and Braga.
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Porto or Benfica or Academico de Viseu or Famalicao
Netherlands (Top 10 Country): Neither the force they had been in recent eras nationally or domestically, Netherlands still manages to produce some of the best players in the world and you can’t write the Nation or their teams off.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Ajax
Europa Cup Qualifier: Alkmaar and Feyenoord
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Utrecht and Feyenoord (Cancelled due to Covid)
England (Top 5 Country): It’s the biggest, most successful, richest, most competitive, and best league in the world. Or at least it was till they started making changes and employed shockingly bad referees.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Liverpool. Man City. Man Utd.
Europa Cup Qualifier: Chelsea. Leicester.
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Arsenal and Man City or Tottenham
Switzerland: No idea why they are so high, but they’re the last time on the list, thank thy Lord.
Champion’s Cup Qualifier: Young Boys.
Europa Cup Qualifier: St Gallen
Cup Winners Cup Qualifier: Young Boys or Basel
So if we take the 2019 – 2020 Season as an example, below is what this season’s imaginary competitions could have looked like. Just look at the amount of unnecessary effort I put into this! For the Cup Winners Cup, in those instances where the Cup Winner had already qualified, I’ve just gone with the easiest route and let the runner up qualify.
Champions Cup First Round
Sheriff Teraspol VS RB Salzburg Bodo VS Marseille Zenit St Petersberg VS Qarabag
Juventus VS Budocnost Drita VS Istanbul Basaksehir APOEL VS Barcelona
Liverpool VS PSG HJK VS Maccabi Tel Aviv Borussia Dortmund VS Ararat Armenia
KF Tirana VS Sarajevo Malmo VS FC Midtyjlland Ajax VS Porto
Slavia Prague VS Connah’s Quay Nomads Kairat VS Shamrock Rovers
Riga FC VS Shakhtyor Soligorsk Atalanta VS Vardar Athletico Madrid VS Man City
Ferencvarosi VS Red Star Shaktar Donestsk VS Inter Escalades
Rennes VS Inter Milan Celja VS Zalgiris Vilnius RB Leipzig VS F91 Dudelange
Ludogorets VS Flora Dinamo Tblisi VS Tre Fiori Man UTD VS Dinamo Zagreb
Floriana VS Linfield Havnar Boltfelag VS Olympiacos
Young Boys VS Legia Warsaw CFR Clug VS Valur Real Madrid VS Slovan Bratislava
Bayern Munich VS Club Brugge Celtic VS Europa
Okay, so the money men may not be happy with that draw given that a couple of the favourites will be knocked out at the first hurdle. Liverpool VS PSG is the pick of the bunch. PSG are multi time Billionaires, but haven’t won much in Europe, versus 6 time winners Liverpool. One of them will be going home with nothing. Ajax and Porto could be interesting – both former winners but both shadows of their former selves. Man City’s plastic billionaires could slip up against an always tricky Athletico Madrid but elsewhere the big teams should pass through – Brugge shouldn’t have enough to stop Munich, Madrid should get past Bratislava, while Utd could have a tricky enough time against Dinamo Zagreb. Barcelona, Inter, Dortmund, Juventus all go through untroubled. Plenty of tiny and middling teams will therefore progress to the next round and get more of that sweet sweet qualifying and viewer cash. Ironically, Floriana and Linfield met last year in the Europa Qualifiers, with Floriana winning so the Northern Ireland champions will be out for revenge. Eventually some of the minnows are bound to meet up with the big boys – and probably be destroyed – but it all raises their profile and could help them become true competitors in the future. At the very least – something to tell the grandkids.
Europa Cup First Round
Dynamo Kiev VS Benfica Sutjeska VS Breioablik Lazio VS Universitatea Craiova
Lille VS Sfintul Gheorghe Partizan VS Krasnodar Maribor VS FC Inter Turku
FK RFS VS St Josephs Maccabi Haifa VS BATE LASK VS The New Saints
Lokomotiv Moscow VS PAOK Kukesi VS Apollon Limassol Chelsea VS Braga
Piast Gliwice VS St Gallen Besiktas VS Viktoria Plzen Crusaders VS AZ Alkmaar
IF Elsborg VS Gent Nice VS Neftki Baku Paide Linnameeskond VS Feyonoord
Roma VS Lokomotiv Plovdiv Sevilla VS Zorya Luhansk Tobol VS Folgore
Dinamo Batumi VS Sileks Molde VS FC Santa Coloma Fola Esch VS Villareal
Fehervar VS Lokomotiva Bohemians VS Gjilani Charleroi VS Bayern Leverkusen
Leicester VS NSI Runavik Zilina VS Valetta Sudova VS Rangers
Zeljeznicar VS Lori Copenhagen VS Borussia Monchengladbach
Lets take a look at the pick of this round – the first match out of the hat is the tastiest, two decent teams and only one can go through – no matter who loses, most other teams’ chances go up by one. Chelsea VS Braga could be interesting, on paper Chelsea should have no problems but Braga won’t lie down. Crusaders get a tough tie against Alkmaar, Europa League specialists should knock out Zorya, Leicester will enjoy a trip to the Faroe Islands. A few other tight contests and always the slight chance of an upset.
Cup Winners Cup First Round
Sonderjyske VS Gabala Hearts VS Basel Steaua Bucuresti VS FK Panevezys
Antwerp VS MFK Ruzomberok Khimki VS FK RFS Prishtina VS Etzella Ettelbruck
Noah VS Arsenal Vojvodina VS Viking Lechia Gdansk VS Inter Escalada
Budapest Honved VS Feyenoord HJK VS Sparta Prague Coleraine VS Siroki Brijeg
Lovcen VS Derry City Vikingur Reykjavik VS Narva Trans
Balzan VS Hapoel Be’er Sheva Lyon VS The New Saints KR VS Tueta
Kaisar VS IFK Goterborg Tottenham VS Dynamo Brest
Athletic Bilbao VS Tre Fiori Cracovia VS St Etienne Akademija Pandev VS AEK
Bayern Munich VS CSKA Sofia Europa VS Vikingur Mura VS Glentoran
Dundalk VS Academico De Viseu Rijeka VS Utrecht FH VS Trabzonspor
SC Austria Lustenau VS AEL Limassol Saburtalo VS Napoli
STM Sports VS Petrocab Hincesti Beitar Jerusalem VS Vorskla Poltava
I admit than on the surface that’s a crappy line-up, and not a lot for the purists to enjoy. But that’s always been the case for these competitions and it’ll be the fans tuning in rather than the general public/fans of other teams. Still, a few matches stand out – Bayern Munich should easily be winning this competition (assuming they don’t play a B Team) but they have a tough first tie against CSKA Sofia. Elsewhere there’s little chance of giant killing – Spurs should comfortably beat Dynamo Brest, Arsenal should destroy NOAH (who have only existed for a couple of years), and Napoli should have no problems. Hearts VS Basel could be interesting, and for selfish reasons (given that I’m friendly with their manager and his wife) Coleraine travel to Bosnia.
Finally. There you have it. What do you think? What is your preferred format for elite European football? Do you like the current set up of the Champions League and Europa League? Would you like to see a third Competition created/reinstated to give other clubs that extra shot of money? Let us know in the comments!