Champions League draw and soccer politics on Monaco agenda
GENEVA (AP) — At beachside venues in ritzy Monaco, the biggest names in European soccer will gather this week to shape high-class games and high-stakes politics.
The annual draw for the group stage of the Champions League is also a talking shop for issues on the European and world stage, including presidential elections.
A look at the two-day gathering starting Thursday in Monaco:
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW
The main business in Monaco on Thursday is the first Champions League draw using an entry system that gives four places to each the big four leagues.
Teams from Spain, England, Italy and Germany now skip the playoff round in August and comprise half of the 32-team lineup being drawn into eight groups. Last season, the four countries had 11 guaranteed places and could add four more in playoffs.
The new format, which should remain through 2024, was decided in Monaco two years ago.
Back then, it seemed like a gift to Italy after Serie A’s third-place team often lost its playoff. Now, a revived Italy is third in the rankings above Germany, which has not had a team in a Champions League or Europa League final since 2013.
Inter Milan — the 2010 Champions League winner which last played in the group stage seven years ago — is a tough draw option in the pot of fourth-seeded teams.
The obvious underdog in the pot of top-seeded teams — defending champion Real Madrid, Europa League winner Atletico Madrid, plus champions of Europe’s six highest-ranked leagues — is Lokomotiv Moscow, which is ending a 15-year absence from the elite stage.
The Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid will host the final on June 1.
UEFA PLAYER AWARD
The Champions League draw ceremony is a gala affair allowing UEFA to present its awards for last season.
Either Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric or Mohamed Salah will be named the best player in Europe after a vote by Champions League coaches and selected media.
The best goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward from the 2017-18 Champions League will also be honored.
A three-player shortlist for the best women’s player features Pernille Harder, Ada Hegerberg and Amandine Henry.
David Beckham will be recognized for achievements on and off the field.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has been nominated for re-election ahead of meeting international media on Friday.
The session is not an official campaign launch for the Slovenian lawyer who is expected to win on Feb. 7 when 55 UEFA member federations meet in Rome.
With UEFA’s signature events, the European Championship and Champions League, consistently delivering rising revenues, there is currently no obvious challenger before a Nov. 7 entry deadline.
All Ceferin’s voters can find something they like in the Nations League, which debuts next month. Top-ranked national teams get more games against each other, lower-ranked teams get more competitive games instead of unwanted friendlies, and new European Championship qualifying routes open up for teams which have not been to a major tournament for 20 years, or ever.
FIFA’S $25 BILLION DEAL
Ceferin also united European soccer leaders this year to resist FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s push to accept a $25 billion, Saudi Arabia-backed deal to revive the Club World Cup and run a global Nations League.
The FIFA project stalled before the World Cup, though never went away and renewed talks are now due with decisions expected before Infantino’s re-election contest next June.
UEFA’s strategy council, which includes clubs, leagues and player unions, was a key part of the resistance in May and meets again on Thursday.
EURO 2024 HOST
Lobbying in Monaco will continue ahead of a Sept. 27 decision by the UEFA executive committee to pick Germany or Turkey as Euro 2024 host.
Germany’s range of stadiums and 2006 World Cup-hosting experience made it a strong favorite even before UEFA built a human rights evaluation into the bidding process.
Turkey has become more authoritarian under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since it was edged by France in a Euro 2016 hosting vote, and passed on bidding to host Euro 2020 alone.
The Europa League has its time in the Monte Carlo sun on Friday, with a 48-team group stage draw and honoring the best player in last season’s competition. Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann is favored to win that prize.
While Champions League issues are set through 2024, the Europa League could change for the three-year cycle starting in 2021.
Talks will continue in Monaco to explore adding 16 more teams to the group stage.
TRANSFER MARKET REFORM
Late on Friday, the transfer trading period ends in most of the big European leagues.
Monaco will host many club CEOs and sporting directors as the window closes, and some of those same officials have been discussing transfer market reforms on committees run by FIFA, UEFA and the European Club Association.
FIFA’s proposals for change should take shape at a meeting next month.