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February 2021

Back to the Atlantic League: how proposals are afoot radically to change the face of English football

 By Tony Attwood

As you may have noticed, Uefa has approved changes to the Champions League from the start of the season after next.

A new company is being set up, equally owned 50/50 by Uefa and the European Clubs Assn to run European competitions.  This has been done to stop a European breakaway by the top clubs.

What they have (or have not) agreed (depending on which report you read) is wild card entries for clubs who fail to qualify (such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool this season), who would be given a place because of their historical achievements, at the expense of clubs who actually make it happen this season.  Because although “top four is not a trophy” as we are regularly told, a lot of former big clubs would rather like it to be.

Some ideas have been ditched such as playing at weekends or elsewhere around the world.  But the changes made so far mean that the clubs have agreed not to boycott the Champs League or set up their own rival competition – at least until 2021 at the earliest.

As a result the top four countries stay the top four, and Italy in particular seems to be getting three entrants to the main part of the competition rather than two plus one in the prelimary play off.  They get that (despite generally being knocked out in the prelims) because Italy brings in more CL money for TV etc than any other country except England.  Everyone has gone along with it because Italy sells views on TV, and that means more money for everyone.

However the percentage of money distributed in prize money goes up.  25% is shared between all qualifiers, 60% as rewards for getting further and further and the rest between associations.

What is good for Arsenal (if Arsenal maintains its record for another two seasons) is that the new merit payment will be awarded based on a system that will track historical performance. Which means that Ajax gets more points than newcomers Leicester and Arsenal and Real Mad get bonus money for always being there.

Meanwhile there is a proposal afoot to invite Celtic and Rangers to join a new five division English league structure starting in 2019/20.

There is also talk of clubs from Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Holland being invited.

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Uefa has said “no” to this in the past, but the clubs have retaliated and talked about just leaving Uefa and doing it, so the discussions are back on.

Elsewhere in Europe there are rumours (reported by the Telegraph) of a Balkan League – including Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Albania,  Herzegovina, Greece etc.

To the north there is talk of the North Atlantic set-up, including Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Anderlecht, Club Brugge, FC Copenhagen and Malmo, and maybe a couple of Scottish clubs if they don’t get invited to join England.

At the other end of the proposals is the addition of National League clubs to make five English divisions of 20 clubs.

And these are more than just reiterations of old time stories.  Shaun Harvey, the EFL chief executive, says Scottish clubs will decide if Rangers and Celtic and Rangers can join the new 5th division at the start of 2019/20, adding, 

“One of the simple questions is, if this is to proceed, is where should the teams come from. So the only ones who will decide that are the clubs themselves, so we will see what they say. I don’t want to pre-empt anything.”

But although bringing Rangers and Celtic into the English fold would benefit them (through the chance to progress up the leagues) it would have a damaging effect on Scottish football clubs left behind.

And there is a growing awareness that simply changing things doesn’t always work.  The Checkatrade Trophy began this past week with noticeably low crowds including some boycotting by fans because of the involvement of the under 23 teams from the Premier League clubs. Chelsea, Leicester City, West Ham and Southampton are all in the trophy, but many others including Arsenal are not.   And of course the clubs in the Champions League are also in the under 19s Champions League so they already have commitment there.

So what about the five leagues of 20 clubs.   Basically the bottom four of the Championship would move into League One.  The bottom eight of League One move into League Two.  The bottom 12 of League Two go into League Three and the top eight of the National League would move up to create the new division.

Overall it is a case of tension; tension between the old and the new, the national associations and the notion that multi-national works; the desire to stay the same, or change.

When you look back through footballing history it is amazing how little has changed.   We have three points for a win instead of two, and no back passing to the keepers.   We have nominally all seater stadia, but lots of people in the lower tiers stand up.  We have keepers restricted to five seconds holding the ball, and an offside rule that gets tinkered with a bit.  We have a transfer window rather than all the year round transfers except for the very end of the season.

But other than the tinkering much is the same.  Uefa rules Euro football, and Fifa the world, and both want to see the national associations remain supreme.   

However the pressure change is building up, and when it starts to happen, the floodgates will probably be opened.

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18 comments to Back to the Atlantic League: how proposals are afoot radically to change the face of English football

  • Jambug


    Likes/Dislikes seems to of disappeared.

    Is that me, you, or can we blame UEFA for it !!

  • Arvind

    I think its good it went away if you ask me : ) whatever the reason is. But hey, maybe they’ll come back

  • Leon

    Nothing to do with me!

  • Leon

    It’s probably Beckenbauer’s fault as it’s reported today that he’s under Swiss investigation for:fraud, money laundering, misappropriation & misuse of Untold Arsenal artifacts.

  • colario

    With regard to the ‘Thursday cup’. In the first part we have small clubs with may be at best a gate of 10 000 travelling 1000 plus kilometers to play another club of the same situation. Then of course a long distant travel for the small home.

    There can not be any since in this economically and environmentally.

    Surely the first part of the cup could be regional for small clubs.

    Of course drawing up the regional set of boundary lines would be the perfect solution but it would for the most part reduce the amount of travelling by small clubs considerably and at the same time allow them to compete with teams outside their country.

    I firmly believe small clubs must be given the chance to compete with the bigger clubs for it can help improve their football ability. However the present set up is crazy.

    Already this season we have had wet spam (state aid) play a team 2000 kilometers away from London and 100 kilometers from Bucharest. The Romanian stadium no bigger then your average 2nd division league ground.

    It was crazy that this club should have been made to travel over 2000ks to London for an early round game. I am glad they won.

    The Bulgarian club we play has a 12 000 seater stadium and is about 300 Ks from Bucharest at the most.

    Surely at this stage they could be given a game against a much nearer smaller club league champion. The champs of Romania for start.

    I have long thought a number of changes are needed. The problem is there isn’t a perfect solution ( I can’t think of one) but there is surely one that is better than the present situation

  • ClockEndRider

    FIFA, UEFA, National FA’s all pointless anachronisms with vested interests in grabbing power and money for themselves while caring not a jot for the game or the unfortunate necessity that is fans. In what rational world would a World Cup be given to Russia with stadia thousands of miles apart and poor communications links between them, or indeed a Euro competition played in multi centres across Europe. And that doesn’t even get close to the ridiculous Ida of a summer World Cup in the desert.
    The sooner than re swept away, the better.

  • ClockEndRider

    Not to mention the fact that neither Israel nor Kazakstan can possibly be called European in the first place.

  • thierryhenry22

    ”Because although “top four is not a trophy” as we are regularly told, a lot of former big clubs would rather like it to be.” LOL so true.

  • colario

    September 1, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    I understand the reason for Israel but not Kazakstan and other former Russian territories that are once again independent countries.

    Ukraine is a bit like Turkey geographically speaking, with its western boarder in Europe and its eastern boarder in Asia. I am Ok with them being in Europe for football but not the other countries.

  • Gord

    I believe that “western Europeans” are nominally the result of a certain G. Kahn, and the his travels on horseback. I believe he comes from the steppes of Mongolia. This may be the justification for including Kazakhstan and others.

  • bjtgooner

    And what role have the TV companies had in this proposed change?

  • Pat

    Geographically Ukraine is entirely in Europe. So is all the very large western part of Russia. This is one of many reasons why it is so misleading to talk about the European Union as Europe. Many other countries are European as well.

    Israel cannot under any geographical standard be counted as part of Europe. It is part of the Middle East like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan … These countries are usually counted as Asia.

    Anyway, back to football. I think it would be very unfair if clubs could participate in the Champions League on the basis of history. The playing field is unequal enough as it is because of the huge amount of money some clubs have.

    And finally – if you have decided to do away with the buttons for like and dislike, Tony, I think it is a wise move. They were being abused anyway. Sometimes you could press them twenty times. Sometimes you couldn’t press them at all. So they were not an accurate reflection of opinion.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    First of all, I want to go along with Sir Alex Ferguson believes that the extra-time be done away with in the Champions League games. The arguments he has put forward in defence of his thoughts on the issue are reasonable and logically correct which ought to have been accepted by all the coaches who are charged to implement a change from the old order to a new one. But for whatever reason known to them, some of these coaches bluntly refused to toe Sir Alex path on this subject. Consequenly the status qou remained This is bad for the players who are often looking tired and jaded during and after extra-time is played in a match. And because of this tiredness and fatigue they’ve suffered, some of them do occasioned misses to convert their spot kicks.

    It will be exciting to watch the Scottish giant clubs of Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen play in the English Premier League sooner than even the 2019/20 year being proposed for it to start. I know probably they will have to come through the ranks of the English League divisions first before they will be allowed to arrive into the Premier League. But will their exodus from the Scottish Premier League kill the SPL attendances in the other remaining SPLA regular League matches? No one can say for sure since the experiment has not yet been carried out.

    Israel playing in the Uefa Champions League was allowed for a political reason as the Asian Arab and sub-Arab nations playing in the Asian Champions League will not want to play against the Israeli clubs in the ACL. Hence, Fifa took Israeli clubs football and their World Cup qualiers to the European slot for participation. I am sure we all know this. I am just reiterating it for the sake of it.

  • Gord

    If Rangers, Celtic (and Aberdeen) moving to the English leagues means the death of the Scottish leagues, the move shouldn’t happen.

  • para

    I suppose some changes need to happen, but how can those who has messed it up so far, be allowed to make the changes?
    This suggests that all the changes will not be good for football but probably good for someone else.

  • Porter

    Hate to say it but I still don’t think that the two sectarian clubs in Glasgow bring much to English football. Things have moved on a little but I have not forgotten the rain of broken glass coming from the roof of the North Bank. I Know that we are meant to be all seated but.
    Also without the income from Europe with the first few years in the lower divisions , I wonder how quickly they will progress through the pyramid.

  • Luscious Lisa

    The reason there have not been many rule changes reflects the don’t fix what isn’t broke motto. All the changes to county cricket haven’t done much to revive it. Bringing Celtic and rangers into a uk league on the other hand is purely about money. Swansea and Cardiff already play in England and Berwick play in Scotland. So as tv,, other sponsors and money do now seem to call all the shots, a structural change which would generate more overall tv investment is probably inevitable. Buy FC Rangers shares now!

  • tony, the code for a back-to-top button is easy to add.