UEFA confirm third-tier European competition from 2021


On Tuesday, UEFA confirmed that from the 2021/22 season, a new European competition will be introduced: the Europa Conference League.

The idea properly came to light last year under the title “Europa League 2”, and the new name has now been confirmed. This will essentially become the third-tier of European football, sitting behind the Champions League and Europa League.

 Fans of the English game may well be questioning UEFA’s latest move, not least due to it’s questionable marketing; the word “conference” hardly feels synonymous with big European nights, due to its usage in non-league, and the full title doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

They might also question what impact the tournament might have. It is said more and more that the gap between the Premier League’s “big six” and the rest is widening. Even when clubs seem to be gaining ground, participation in the Europa League, more often than not, sees them take a step back due to the extra pressures on a smaller squad.

Everton and Burnley have had this fate befall them in recent seasons, and the same could well happen to Wolves this time around. Surely, the introduction of even more teams into Europe would only do damage to the competitivity of the league.

However, details regarding qualification suggest that this won’t be a problem. In a tweet, UEFA said the ECL is “aimed at giving more clubs in more countries a chance to participate in European football.” This implies the competition’s focus is on countries that are typically less successful continentally.

The top five nations in UEFA’s Country Coefficient (of which England are currently second) will be afforded just one initial place for the tournament. For England, this place will be awarded to the winners of the League Cup, a step down from the Europa League qualifying place currently given.

While the coefficient system doesn’t alter English participation drastically, it may well do for Scottish sides. Nations ranked from 16 to 51 will be given three berths in the Europa Conference League, and Scotland currently sit 19th.

This may sound positive, but these three spots come from Scotland’s total of four for European competition. While the league winners would still be able to qualify for the Champions League, there would be no places for the Europa League. It will stay like this unless Scotland move into the top 15 of the rankings by the end of the season, which is when the coefficient will be finalised. 

Image result for aberdeen europa league 2 james wilson

Sides like Aberdeen will likely lose access to the Europa League once the Europa Conference League is introduced – photo: SkySports

Along with the new event’s introduction, UEFA will make several changes to the Europa League from 2021. All three competitions will have eight groups of four teams. Currently, 48 sides contest the Europa League group stage. The reduction in participants looks to be a positive change, as it will increase competitivity, and therefore ensure that teams take all their games seriously.

Those finishing third in Champions League groups will still drop into the Europa League, and the system is to be adopted so that third-placed EL teams can compete in the ECL. This would leave 40 teams remaining in the top two competitions, but UEFA has said a play-off round will take place to get this number down to 32.

UEFA are clearly keen to stress that inclusivity is the driving force behind the Europa Conference League.

President Aleksander Ceferin said: 

“There was a widespread demand by all clubs to increase their chances of participating more regularly in European competition.”

But could this be a cloak over something much bigger? The concept of a European “super league” has long been discussed, and resurfaced after supposed leaks last year. Critics have suggested that this third tier is the beginning of a league structure for European competition, out of which a super league might eventually form. 

Even without this eventual end, there is little to convince fans of the merits of the Europa Conference League. And let’s be honest, even Europa League 2 would’ve been a better name.


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