Zohaib Ahmed is a sports journalist whose profession is to report and edit but whose passion is to predict and bet. He’s been in the industry for more than a decade and has worked/written for various bookmakers/tipsters. His expertise is in cricket, football, MMA, boxing and basketball.
The late 1920s and early 1930s saw the birth of several modern day football leagues and France’s Ligue 1 is an extension of the product that formed in France in that very wave. nUnlike many of its peers though, the French top division’s origin had sparked a completely new debate, not heard at inception point anywhere else. Organised football had existed in France as far back as 1893 but they were not professional. nSo when the French Football Federation first introduced the idea of a professional football league, the debate was: to be or not to be? nSeveral clubs were reluctant at first and even outright rejected the concept and vowed to stay amateur but eventually caved in the face of the competition’s growing popularity.
In the world of European football where tradition and continuity are valued greatly, it’s rare to see new tournaments being commissioned in our lifetime. After all, the Champions League has been around for 66 years and Europa League for 50 (albeit under different names).
Thus, the fact that we currently stand on year zero of the UEFA Europa Conference League is quite unique. Years down the road we’d be able to tell, or even brag, how we saw the first-ever Conference League season.
That’s got to be special but unfortunately, that’s about as special as it can get, for the Conference League is a third-tier continental competition, by which time all the luster is usually gone. We won’t know if that will be the case with this league as it has never been played yet, but generally, that is the rule. The lower you go, the lesser the interest is and the inferior the quality becomes.
As is the case with most big ventures, the idea of a third-tier competition was not a product of an impulsive decision. The leaders of European football had first discussed the idea in 2015. You would ask what exactly the need was for another competition of this kind when it is quite likely that it would not be as glamorous as its elder siblings and probably attract average interest at best globally.
The reason was that for years and years, if not decades, UEFA had seen its top two competitions featuring champions from small leagues, who would fail spectacularly when pitted with the giants, or even average sides of big leagues. The gulf in finances and class was so massive that upsets were becoming rare and Cinderella stories going extinct.
In order to remedy the perpetual cycle of the likes of Qarabag FK, Dinamo Tbilisi, and Partizan Belgrade falling and failing in qualifiers, UEFA formed a separate Conference League to keep big fan bases from small countries interested.
How it Works
To make room for the Conference League, UEFA trimmed the Europa League from 48 teams to 32. But that doesn’t mean the Conference League comprises just 16 teams; it also is a 32-team competition. None of those teams, however, get direct entries into the group stage. Ten entrants are those that fail in Europa League play-offs and others make their way through the Conference League qualifiers.
Conference League spots are assigned to nations based on their coefficients. But since the idea of this league is to involve clubs from lower-ranked nations, more spots are to be awarded to nations that are placed low on coefficient ranking than high. Again, there will be no free lunches, and everyone will have to go through qualifiers in order to earn their spot on the group stage.
The reward of this entire exercise will be a spot in the Europa League next year. That, and priceless glory.
Even though this is another football competition – the likes of which we’ve seen plenty – it should be kept in mind that this is also the first time that the Conference League is taking place. Thus, we cannot throw caution to the wind. Some sort of restraint should be exercised until at least the opening competition is out of the way.
The one major caveat when betting on the inaugural season is to make sure that teams coming from big leagues take the Conference League seriously. Over the years, one major concern for Europa League organizers was when Champions League regulars used to stumble down in the second tier and would then not take the competition seriously, often resting their regulars and prioritizing their local leagues that year (we’re looking at you, Premier League clubs!)
That exact same thing can happen to the Conference League, which could be looked down upon by heavyweights or even middleweights for that matter. Then again, clubs from Spain and Italy are known to take their club competitions very seriously. As a gambler, you will have to do your research, check out the recent history of the club, the legacy, the ambitions, matchday line-ups, recent comments as well as their position in their own league to gauge how seriously they’re going to be when participating in the Conference League.
Currently, the Conference League is days away from its playoffs of the qualifying round, after which the line-ups for the group stage will be set, and only then we’d be able to tell which teams stand the best chance to win the inaugural competition.
Of the teams currently in the competition, we’d say that Tottenham Hotspur and AS Roma are the strongest and can win the league at a canter if they want.
Is the Conference League the same as the Europa League?
No, Conference League and Europa League are different competitions, with the former being the third tier of European football competitions and the latter being the second. They do have similar sorts of formats though.
How do clubs qualify for the UEFA Conference League?
Clubs in Europe can qualify for the Conference League on the basis of their position in their country’s top flight division — the same mechanism that is followed in Champions League and Europa League. Clubs that fail and drop out of Europa also get a place in the Conference League.
When will the UEFA Conference League be played?
The inaugural UEFA Conference League’s qualifying campaign began on July 6. However, the group stage, which is the main part of the competition, is scheduled to kick off on September 16, 2021 and conclude on May 25, 2022.