After struggling in qualifying, FC Copenhagen returned to the Champions League group stages this season after a six-year absence.
A daunting double-header with Manchester City looms in the coming weeks, but testing themselves against Europe’s elite is what the Scandinavian club aspire to do every season – especially considering the financial rewards on offer.
After a hesitant start to the season, Copenhagen trail Randers by 10 points. There have been three Superliga winners in the last three years – Midtjylland, Brøndby IF and Copenhagen – and an unexpected fight for supremacy is developing again with some of the country’s biggest names struggling to keep up. .
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The unpredictability of the Superliga contrasts with the monotonous scene of many domestic competitions in Europe. The Champions League has grown equally dismal until the latter stages, with clubs from wealthy markets exercising their financial dominance to monopolize the most expensive trophy in club play.
It’s been 18 years since José Mourinho danced on the bench at Old Trafford and Porto snatched the European Cup from the grip of the big nations. “In the football ecosystem, the gap is getting wider and wider, especially with the big leagues and big clubs moving away,” says Daniel Rommedahl, Copenhagen director of football operations, in a conversation with Lesport24 regarding the diminishing aspirations of big clubs from small nations.
“It’s not ideal because the clubs want to keep the dream alive. Every club wants to feel they have a chance, but in the long term, if this continues, the idea that everyone can win against everyone will diminish and fade away. Clubs should be rewarded for good results, but a general problem in football is that everyone is more or less confined to their own country.
Rommedahl is a board member of the influential European Club Association (ECA) – and he uses his position to highlight the value and interest of clubs outside the established order. He believes the creation of the Conference League is an acknowledgment by Uefa that clubs outside the major leagues need more opportunities to reap the huge benefits of extended European participation.
“We played a fairly active role in creating the new system through the ECA, and we tried to make our voice heard, especially with our counterparts who are in a position similar to ours,” explains Rommedahl.
“Clubs of our size, from small and medium-sized countries, have a lot in common in their search for balance. Borders limit how we work, but the new system, from my point of view, benefits everyone. The introduction of the Conference League into European football is a good example of creating something that is not just for big countries, but also for small or medium-sized countries.”
COPENHAGEN IS IN A TOUGH GROUP IN UCL WITH MAN CITY, DORTMUND AND SEVILLA
The Conference League was a welcome addition; it refreshed a tired landscape. Planned changes from 2024-25, including the Champions League going from 32 to 36 clubs, however, appear to be another attempt to appease the desires of the wealthy.
Financial details for the 2024-27 cycle have yet to be determined, but it is plausible that either England or Spain will have more than five teams competing in the revamped Champions League. Europe’s elite competition could have sought to be more inclusive, but instead opted to funnel more funds into the coffers of big league clubs.
“Overall, I’m pretty positive with the new model, not just the formula of the system, with more games and more teams, but the access to the three competitions, which seems fair to me,” argues Rommedahl. “You could have said that the big clubs could have taken even more, but I think that of the four extra Champions League places, at least two will go to the big five, but the rest will go to other clubs. We always want to ask for more, but we have to find a compromise for everyone.
“There is always a discussion about whether the Champions League receives too much compared to the Europa League or the Conference League, but what is each club’s fair share of the competition? The fair share is not what you see today. The Champions League receives around 75% of the Uefa distribution model, but it would be 92% depending on how the rights are sold. There is much more solidarity in Europe. The price of the Conference League is nowhere near the sale price of the rights, but solidarity made it possible for everyone to get something, even if the real value may not be there.
“I worry more about the general financial aspect of football and where it is going. 95% of money from the Champions League, Europa League or Conference League goes to all clubs. In England, all the money the Danish broadcaster pays for the Premier League is distributed within the English football model. If Denmark is paying €100m for Premier League rights, why isn’t some of that money going back into the wider football ecosystem? Not just the English, because it’s not just English players who play in the Premier League.
“Following the model of Uefa competitions could be a way of leveling the gap or giving something back to the whole of European football – and that should apply to every league. If the Italians get the TV rights from Belgium, then some of that money should go to Belgium, but that’s a matter that needs to be debated by the leagues.”
EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE A POSITIVE STEP, SAYS ROMMEDAHL
The footballing landscape is changing, but Mr Rommedahl does not expect the merits of the much-maligned European Super League to be the subject of further drama anytime soon. « I would never say ‘never’ in this world, but I would hate to see a chairman or CEO of one of these clubs come back and try again in the next two years, » he adds.
“It was the weirdest process I’ve been involved in. I sat on a board of directors with colleagues whom I trusted and with whom I had good relations. We have a Whatsapp group, and when everything happened, you could see ‘this person left the group, this person left the group’ and so on. They left without warning. I had never known such a way of working before, and I hope that I will never know it again.
« It creates trust issues, especially on a personal level with these people, because you can never trust them to do business with them. »
*18+ BeGambleAware odds subject to change