Draws for major tournaments, continental competitions, and domestic cups usually draw in decent viewing figures for what is essentially two sporting figures drawing names out of a container to determine which teams will be facing off against each other in that particular competition.
It may sound unromantic, but in reality, the only excitement an individual will get from watching these overhyped affairs is finding out who their team will be facing in that respective competition.
But for some reason, we kept getting drawn in by broadcasters into watching these draws.
Whenever a major cup draw takes place, we are often reminded on social media of the time Rod Stewart entertained us all with his extravagant way of picking the sides out of the container.
As amusing as this was, it was an outlier in general, and it never seemed anything would come close to replicating or topping it.
But then, a Monday in December gave us some of the best entertainment we’ve seen in the UEFA Champions League draw for the round of 16.
Things seemed to go awry quite early on.
After Benfica were paired with Real Madrid, all was fine until Villarreal were paired with Manchester United.
That was the first error of the day, with the tie between the Europa League finalists of 2021 being impossible, due to both having been paired together in the same group.
Teams who qualified from the same group are not allowed to be paired together in round of 16 clashes.
This is where it gets confusing.
After the mistake, former Zenit St. Petersburg and Arsenal forward Andrey Arshavin was asked to try again.
This time, Manchester City were paired with Villarreal, with the tie this time being allowed to take place.
Next up were reigning Spanish champions Atlético Madrid, with the draw now seemingly back on track.
But within seconds, UEFA deputy general secretary Giorgio Marchetti claimed that Atléti could not be drawn against Manchester United, as they had already been drawn.
However, as mentioned above, this wasn’t the case and United should still have been potential opponents for Atléti.
But United were ruled out, and Atléti ended up drawing Bayern Munich, arguably the toughest draw anybody in Europe could ask for.
Understandably, Atléti were disappointed with events, and despite the rest of the draw taking place, within an hour of the draw, it was declared void and was to be completed again a few hours later.
Whilst this might seem like a light-hearted matter, it merely sums up the current state of UEFA, with the organisation still in turmoil following last year’s Super League breakaway threat.
UEFA have been on tenterhooks since 12 of its member clubs tried to leave the organisation in April, in favour of forming the aforementioned Super League.
The Super League would have been a blow for all levels of football, with the pinnacle of football now acting as a closed shop, where only the self-proclaimed ‘best clubs’ could choose who would have the ‘honour’ of competing in the closed-shop league every season.
Everybody within the sport, including supporters of clubs involved in the proposed Super League, was shaken into action, but UEFA may have had the biggest crisis on its hands, now having to deal with the potential ramifications of its biggest clubs leaving the organisation.
UEFA struggled, with Bayern Munich being their only high-profile backer remaining with the self-appointed biggest clubs from England, Spain and Italy all leaving to join the Super League proposals.
Eventually, following growing protests from governments, fellow football clubs and fans, all of the original clubs involved in the inaugural Super League tournament pulled out, barring FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus (coincidentally, the three clubs who needed the money more than others.)
What was UEFA’s response to all this?
Well, actually, plans had already been in place to reform the Champions League from 2024 onwards.
At first, the idea of reform was met with a relatively positive response.
Whilst the knockout stages of the competition represent the pinnacle of club football, the group stages can be particularly stale, with two teams of four going through to the round of 16 from each group.
Generally, you can predict at least six groups, with two teams tending to be of a much higher standard than the other two.
The idea of a revamp at this stage was enough for some people to get behind the reforms.
What UEFA have produced is effectively course for another Super League, in all but name.
Instead, clubs will now have four games added to their current schedule, playing ten teams once, being spilt between home and away fixtures whilst competing in a single 36-team league to determine who qualifies for the knockout stage.
Still with it?
Don’t worry, it takes a few attempts at working it out, but you’ll get there.
Following the conclusion of the group stage, the top eight teams go straight to the round of 16, whilst sides placed between ninth and 24th will go into a play-off round, with the teams between ninth and 16th being seeded and getting home advantage in the second-leg of a two-legged tie.
The eight play-off winners will then face one of the eight teams who progressed automatically.
In other words, the group stage will now just be one league, with each team playing a pre-determined ten opponents in their attempts to qualify for the knockout stages.
This is designed to make the competition more competitive, with top sides playing each other earlier on in the tournament, but in reality, it seems to just make the group stage more long-winded and more frustrating for managers who want to balance continental and domestic commitments.
The same changes will apply to the Europa League and the Europa Conference League, which will cause even more chaos, with teams generally having to travel further distances in Europe’s second and third continental competition.
Qualification to take part in the competition is embarrassing in itself.
Whilst the current qualification process has its flaws (with teams who aren’t actually ‘Champions’ competing in the league), it is difficult to suggest a better format, with the allocation of slots to domestic leagues being fairly proportioned.
However, there will be four extra spots for the competition in 2024, with 36 teams competing in the competition from the group stage onwards.
One of these slots will be a third-placed team from the fifth-ranked member association league in UEFA (the current top four of England, Spain, Germany, and Italy have four each at the moment.)
This seems fair enough, with that spot likely going to a French or Portuguese club.
Another spot will be awarded to a domestic champion from the “Champions path” (the champions path is competed from champions of the lesser-known leagues.0
Again, this seems like a fair opportunity.
The final two slots are determined by the clubs with the highest coefficient who haven’t qualified for the competition, through sporting performance the season before.
This represents Super League values from UEFA.
What this effectively does, is provide a backup plan for an underperforming club.
If the rule had applied from this season, Tottenham Hotspur would have qualified for the Champions League this season, despite finishing 7th in the Premier League last season, below Leicester City and West Ham United, without a domestic trophy.
The need to add teams into the competition wasn’t there in the first place, but to award two slots to football clubs who had failed to fairly qualify for the competition in the first place, because of their historical importance, is frankly pathetic.
Which leads back to why the current running of UEFA is a farce, and how the Super League has put pressure on the organisation to adhere to Super League-like values.
A butchered Champions League draw may have been entertaining and amusing on the face of it, but seldom has a cataclysmic error summed up the failings of an organisation, quite like this has.