UEFA's Club Competitions Committee will watch the season finale with great interest after a number of innovative changes to the competitions in which the committee played a full role.
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With the knockout phase well advanced in Europe's two major club competitions – the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League – it is an interesting time for the UEFA Club Competitions Committee to be watching these events reach an exciting climax with the semi-finals and finals over the coming weeks.
The committee, chaired by UEFA Executive Committee member Michael van Praag – also the president of the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) – has an important role to play in the continuing success story of the UEFA Champions League and in nurturing the 'new boy on the block', the UEFA Europa League, which is entering the closing stages of its initial season after replacing the venerable UEFA Cup.
The UEFA Club Competitions Committee has a broad palette of duties. It exchanges views on the current UEFA club competitions, draws up modifications to these existing competitions and their regulations, assists in the process for selecting final venues, proposes models for the distribution of revenues, and monitors the competitions while they are in progress. The recommendations made by the committee always receive close attention from the UEFA Executive Committee, especially with regard to the revamping of the club competitions in recent times through changes to the access list in the UEFA Champions League and the launching of the UEFA Europa League.
New access list provisions have come into operation – with the committee fully involved in the preparation process – allowing clubs from more associations to savour the stimulating atmosphere of the UEFA Champions League group stage and have a tilt at upsetting Europe's big guns.
"We should not forget that we have 53 member associations, we are a big confederation," said Van Praag. "I really believe that it is important not only for the relationship between the associations and UEFA, but also for club football as such. There are more countries who have the possibility to receive big clubs such as Real Madrid or Manchester United, and in former days they would never have had a chance to play against those clubs. It's also nice for the supporters, of course."
In September 2008, following recommendations by the Club Competitions Committee, UEFA's Executive Committee decided to launch the UEFA Europa League as an impressive sister competition to the UEFA Champions League. The first signs in the opening season are that the fledgling tournament will flourish as a popular European football entity in its own right. "As president of the Dutch FA, we spoke about it with the clubs and I know they really welcomed the idea," Van Praag reflected. "The whole competition has been upgraded and the clubs like that very much."
Van Praag and his committee welcome the positive climate that has been built by UEFA and the European clubs, in particular since the founding of the European Club Association (ECA) and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between UEFA and the ECA in 2008. "A contact is established between representatives of clubs and UEFA," the Dutchman explained. "The relationship between UEFA and the clubs has never been as good as today. There are different points of view – but there is mutual respect, and that is important." With the committee's considered and careful work, the club competitions and their future well-being are in ideal hands.