VIENNA (AP) — Forget the Final Four, European soccer could be getting the Opening Four.
UEFA has discussed creating a mini-tournament to start the season with four teams from the Champions League, people with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private talks.
The discussion follows a UEFA decision to back off from reshaping the final matches of the Champions League by replacing the two-leg semifinals with single matches in the same location as the final. That idea was tested in 2020 out of necessity because of pandemic scheduling issues when the quarterfinals and semifinals were turned into single games before the final. All the matches were played in Lisbon.
Back then, however, there was no need to accommodate different sets of fans in the Portuguese city because stadiums were empty amid the pandemic. Having supporters of so many teams in one city could put a strain on infrastructure and limit the number of cities able to host a Final Four tournament.
Creating a pre-season tournament with four teams would allow UEFA to test staging the event outside of Europe, with the United States a favored option. Since clubs already go on pre-season tours around the world, going far from home could face less resistance.
It would need to be lucrative enough for clubs to want to send strong squads to compete in the mini-competition, which could give more chances for elite teams to play each other for a trophy.
One option is to select the four teams that finish at the top of the 36-team standings that will become the new format for the main phase of the Champions League from 2024, replacing the eight groups of four. With the top eight teams qualifying automatically for the round of 16 in the new format, this would provide an incentive for clubs to continue chasing points until the eighth and final round to clinch a top-four place.
The four-team tournament would likely mean the Champions League winner no longer plays in the Super Cup in August. One option floated is for that match to become a meeting between the Europa League and Europa Conference League champions.
UEFA is already in partnership with Relevent Sports, which created the International Champions Cup as a pre-season tournament to put a greater — and more lucrative — structure around pre-season friendlies. Relevent Sports, which is controlled by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, has a deal to sell the commercial and broadcast rights for the Champions League in the United States from 2024-27.
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Rob Harris, The Associated Press