Many of the big clubs around Europe are unhappy with how the Champions League is currently structured. English teams want more representation. Continental teams want better financial guarantees to help combat England's growing financial advantages. Fans want more high-profile matches instead of megaclubs beating up on BATE Borisov every year. That unhappiness has lead to rumors of big clubs breaking away to form a European Super League, but a new proposal that UEFA are reportedly considering could change enough to keep them happy -- but it could also leave Napoli out in the cold.
The proposal is as such: instead of the current structure, which sees clubs qualify based on their league finish. As it stands some clubs go straight to the current 32 team group stage, others going through a potentially multi-round qualification process to get there. The top two teams from each group move into the knockout rounds, and you can guess what happens from there.
The new proposal starts similarly, with seeded qualification rounds before the group stage, but likely with wider participation in those qualifiers than we've seen before -- because instead of 32 teams split up into groups of four teams, we'd have 16 teams split into two "super groups" of eight clubs. The top two teams from each group would advance and go straight to the semifinal rounds, limiting the number of knockout round matches compared to what we have today. That would leave every team that plays the group stage playing more Champions League matches than they do now -- a double round-robin group stage of the same structure as now has 14 matches per team, whereas a team that enters the Champions League in the group stage now would play 13 matches total if they get to the final.
There's obviously a number of kinks to work out in the proposal -- how the qualification rounds would be structured, how the group stage would work around the winter transfer window, the scheduling of matches in general, and a number of other potential pitfalls -- but UEFA has until 2018 to figure it out. They can't make major rules or format changes like this in the middle of a three-year Champions League "cycle," and we're in the first season of the current 2015-2018 cycle.
There's obviously a number of potential benefits for the clubs that reach the group stage. In addition to there being more matches involved, there would be more high-profile matches as well, meaning that potential TV money would be significantly higher than it is today -- Champions League TV contracts are held down to some degree because the group stage as currently structured features so many minnows like BATE Borisov, APOEL, and the like who simply don't stand a chance against the heavyweights of Europe. There's other advantages as well, but let's face it -- everyone's higher priority is that sweet, sweet TV money.
The trouble, though, is for teams on the fringe of being a real contender for the Champions League from bigger countries -- teams like Napoli. Teams outside of the elite or the regular contenders have to be sweating bullets seeing this proposal, because it threatens to strangle off their already-limited opportunities to compete at the highest level and earn the financial boons therein. Especially for a team like Napoli who have spent years building up higher and higher in order to reach that level, this proposal could potentially prove disastrous to their dreams and ambitions.
Especially if the field is narrowed as proposed, that could leave Napoli among a number of Italian teams left out in the cold, as Italy were at best another two years from re-earning a fourth Champions League spot -- and that's assuming they catch England in the co-efficient table next season. With the group stage field cut in half, there'd be no way to guarantee that Italy keep more than one team involved in the group stage, with the improved financial benefits of making it there making it more likely for that one team to stay there over the course of years.
Hopefully these potential changes don't wind up being as problematic for Napoli as it appears they do, but as it stands it looks as though they'll continue to be perennial contenders in the Europa League -- not exactly an exciting proposition. How that competition could change is unknown, though as it currently mirrors the Champions League, it would likely have to undergo some sort of structural alterations in order to accommodate the elder competition's changes.
If anything, this potential new version of the Champions League just makes Aurelio De Laurentiis' quest to turn Napoli into a perennial scudetto contender all the more important.