For a long time, UEFA planned to create a third-tier European competition that will exist alongside the major competitions in Europe: the Champions League (CL) and the Europa League (UEL). UEFA’s mandate was to give the smaller nation’s clubs a taste of glory on the continental stage.
In 2018, UEFA confirmed the introduction of a new competition in Europe following a meeting in Dublin. The competition will come into effect from the 2021/22 season. Initially, the competition was called the Europa League 2. Over time, it was renamed the UEFA Europa Conference League. It is scheduled to run for three years from 2021-23 before reforms to the Champions League format go into effect.
How does it work?
The conference league will consist of 32 teams divided into eight groups of four teams each and the games will be played on Thursday. The tournament qualification process is very long. Neither team will enter the group stage directly. Around 176 teams will participate in the preliminary rounds at one stage or another.
As the aim of this competition is to promote football in the lower ranked nations, no additional European qualifying slots have been added to the five major leagues in Europe. Out of every top five in the league, one of the allotted places in the Europa League has been traded for a place in the UEFA Conference League. This UEFA decision meant that England, Germany and Spain will only have two teams in the Europa League.
The UEFA ranking for national leagues dictates the allocation of the remaining places in the Conference League. The 5 best leagues will have one place each (England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France). The countries ranked from 6 to 15 will have two places each, from 16 to 50 will have three places each and, finally, the last five countries will have two places each.
Teams will enter the four qualifying rounds at different times depending on their coefficients. For example, teams from the top five leagues will play only in the final qualifying round.
The teams that lose the Europa League qualifier will appear in various stages of the qualification. There is also a champion part in the group stage when all national title winners who lose in the UCL and UEL playoffs will battle for five places.
After this stage, the competition will develop as in other European competitions. However, there is a twist as UEFA has added a preliminary knockout round after the group stage where the group runners-up in the conference league will play against the teams that finish third in the UEL. The winners will play the winner of the Conference League groups in the round of 16 and so on. The winner of the conference league will earn an automatic qualification at next season’s UEL.
This will make UEL a more exclusive tournament than ever. To adapt to the new competition, UEFA has reduced the size of the UEL group stage from 48 to 32 sides. As a result, no nation outside of UEFA’s top 15 has been assigned a qualifying slot. This means that success at UEL can equate to great business. During the 2019-20 campaign, a group stage spot guaranteed a club £ 2.92 million, while the competition winners received £ 7.5 million and the runners-up win up to £ 4 million. This cash award will reportedly increase with the implementation of the Europa Conference League over the next three years.