Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has urged UEFA to consider the concerns of both players and managers regarding the proposed Champions League expansion plans.
Amid the turmoil of the attempted European Super League breakaway, the proposed alterations to the Champions League did not go unnoticed, the new swiss-style format coming under fire from both players and managers, as well as supporters.
The revamp of the competition – which is set to take shape from 2024 onwards – would see an increase of 36-team’s involved, while the current group stage format would be scrapped in favour of a league system, with every side playing 10 first round games against varying opposition, before the usual knockout format kicks in in the second-half the season.
While there had been calls for a shake-up to the group stage model at present, the news that clubs will now have to play an extra four games prior to the knockout stages has not gone down well, particularly at a time when the football calendar is already seemingly far too hectic and relentless.
Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan voiced his concerns over the increase in fixtures on twitter this week, while his manager Pep Guardiola also hit out at UEFA’s reforms, insisting that the powers-that-be must begin to ‘protect the players’ rather than extended the fixture schedule even more.
With Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp also expressing his dislike for the proposed Champions League changes, Manchester United boss Solskjaer has insisted that now is the time for UEFA to listen to both players and managers.
The UCL format right now works great and that is why it's the most popular club competition in the world – for us players and for the fans.
— Ilkay Gündogan (@IlkayGuendogan) April 22, 2021
“Of course, we need to listen to the players,” Solskjaer said at his pre-match press conference. “It’s very important. We’ve had this discussion. We know that the new format of the Champions League gives the players more games.
“We need to look after the players and their chance to perform at the best level. I know there’s money in this but there are human beings and as I’ve said, I want the best possible product and the best possible games of football. The magic of a semi-final or a final, now we’re going towards the end of the season and players are playing every two or three days.”
While the current campaign has been an outlier due to the delayed start to the campaign, there has seemingly been little done to try and create some wriggle room in the fixture schedule, with United having only just had their first full week break of the season ahead of their clash with Leeds United, after having played midweek games all throughout the term.
“It’s hard to play at your maximum level after long seasons with all these games,“ the Norwegian added. ”Of course, they want to be part of a final, they want to be part of the Euros, the World Cup. Are we preparing them to play at the highest possible standard? That’s the challenge.
“We need to listen to them, of course, but everyone knows this year has been particularly difficult and especially because of the pandemic.
The Super League is gone for now.
But here's what you'll get instead with the new Champions League format that was confirmed this week 👀 pic.twitter.com/AEeichoyiO
— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 21, 2021
“I think football has been a release for everyone from the, [let’s] call it, sanity but the mental health of the people, of the players as well. We’ve been privileged to play games, but the product will be better when the fans are back in so we need to listen to the fans. But it will be better if we got a couple more days before every game.
“This week has been fantastic for us, we’ve had a week for the first time [when the league has been on] since August 2019 without a midweek game, without the obvious break up in Marbella for the mid-season break last year and then the Project Restart.
“To get the best possible product, there’s many ways we can do that, but listen to the fans, listen to the players, listen to us managers.”