Irish champions likely to benefit from creation of new UEFA club competition but other League of Ireland clubs may not
UEFA have confirmed the introduction of a third European club competition from 2021 and it looks set to have mixed repercussions for Irish clubs.
Ireland's champions are likely to benefit from increased opportunities whereas the teams that currently qualify for the Europa League will now find themselves in the qualifying rounds of a new lower ranked tournament.
The association’s Executive Committee met yesterday in Dublin after the Euro 2020 draw as part of a two-stage meeting that will be completed today.
And the main news to emerge from the first session is the announcement that 'UEL2' is on the way from 2021 onwards.
The 32-team competition will come onto the calendar in 2021 and run in tandem with the Champions League and the Europa League.
It's a fitting name as it basically looks to be an inferior version of the Europa League.
UEFA say that the changes will ensure that a greater number of the association’s 55 leagues will be represented across the three competitions, with President Aleksander Ceferin stating it will make their premium events 'more inclusive than ever before.'
At the moment, 26 leagues are assured of a place in either the Champions League or Europa League. That number will increase to 34, which is what will offer encouragement to the smaller leagues such as the League of Ireland - but the UEL2 is the most likely avenue for their prolonged involvement.
Essentially, this is all a consolation prize to offset the stiffening of the route to the Champions League group stages.
When Dundalk came within touching distance in 2016, they had to play three qualifying ties. Next year, they would have to come through four.
Champions from the smaller leagues do get a second chance in the Europa League – and the access list plan released by UEFA late last night suggests that UEL2 will offer further opportunities for champions of the lowly-ranked leagues that are knocked out early.
However, this document also indicates that the three other Irish qualifiers will now start off in the UEL2 - thus meaning that the Europa League will become a more exclusive tournament consisting only of the next best sides from the top 15 leagues and a selection of national champions that come through a backdoor route after missing out on the Champions League.
This would appear to be a part of UEFA's plan to placate the richer leagues that want a more consistent level of high profile European matches for their representatives - the elevation in the status of the Europa League is part of that plan.
Ireland's champions would still have a chance of being parachuted into the Europa League shake-up provided they win at least one Champions League round.
There will also be a route for champions through UEL2 if that doesn't work out so this will suit the proliferation of teams around Europe that are dominant in their own patch.
But for non-champions, there will be reduced opportunities for high profile European matches if they can come through the early rounds of the new tournament.
For example, Shamrock Rovers got the opportunity to take on Juventus in the 2010 Europa League qualifying rounds off the strength of winning one tie against a team from Israel. In the proposed new format, an Irish side kicking off in UEL2 would have to win three ties before getting the chance to take on a team from any of Europe's top five leagues.
UEFA tend to soften the blow by increasing prizemoney and spreading the wealth but details have yet to be disclosed and doubts surround the likelihood of a proper TV deal for the third tier event.