UEFA stands for Union of European Football Associations. The aim of the sports organisation was to manage football in Europe and a number of countries formally belonging to Asia but taking part in European tournaments.
UEFA, along with five other regional associations, is a structural unit of FIFA, i.e. the International Football Federation. The European organisation is rightly considered the richest and most influential of the others.
This is not surprising since most of the leading football teams, both at national team and club level, are located on the continent. The former include Germany, Italy, France (current world champion), England and others. The latter include Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern, AC Milan, Juventus, etc.
National team tournaments
The above information shows the main focus of UEFA. It consists of the organisation and running of two categories – national teams and clubs in individual countries. Each should be analysed in more detail.
The competition between the strongest teams in Europe begins with qualification. First all teams are divided into several qualification groups and then they have a two-round tournament. The aim is to select the 1-2 best teams for the main tournament.
The need for qualification is due to the fact that the total number of UEFA members exceeds five dozen. At the same time, only 24 teams play in the main tournament. Therefore, more than half of them will be eliminated in the preliminary stage.
The European Football Championship is a tournament among national teams that takes place once every four years. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the European Championship 2020 to be postponed by one year. Therefore, the tournament will start on 11 June 2021. One of the most popular sports competitions, 24 teams, selected during the qualification round, take part in the tournament.
They are divided into 6 groups, 4 teams in each group. Two teams are guaranteed to qualify to the next stage of the competition. Another 4 qualifiers are drawn from the 3rd ranked teams in the group stage.
Then comes the traditional play-offs. It starts with the semi-finals, followed by the finals and the 3rd placement match. The teams play one game each in all phases of the play-offs. Finally there is the last European champions, Portugal, who are crowned champions in 2016.
UEFA Nations League
A relatively new tournament, held for the first time in 2018-2019. The organisation of the competition had two objectives. The first was to increase UEFA’s influence in the football world, with wealthy clubs gradually taking the lead.
The second was to replace the numerous friendly matches with more interesting audiences and exciting official games. With varying degrees of success, both objectives were achieved. The first winner of the tournament was Portugal, who beat the Netherlands 1-0 in the final. Portugal are also the reigning European champions.
The European Youth Championship runs in parallel to the main tournament. The competition involves players who were under 21 at the start of the tournament. The last tournament of this kind – already the 23rd – has just ended.
The final was held on 6 June, when Germany defeated Portugal 1-0 in the final. The other two semi-finalists were the equally famous teams of Spain and the Netherlands, showing the importance of the competition in the European calendar.
UEFA club tournaments
The popularity of the various national team tournaments is unquestionable. But UEFA’s club competitions are an equally important source of financial income.
The major club competition, not only in Europe, but also in the world is the Champions’ League. The competition takes place annually, runs from August to May (sometimes June), and includes the most famous and richest clubs of the leading European countries – Spain, England, Germany, Italy, France and others.
Since almost all of the strongest players play in Europe, the tournament has high television ratings and, as a consequence, brings in serious revenue, comparable to or even exceeding major tournaments among the national teams. Moreover, it is held four times more often than world and European championships.
One should not be surprised by the desire of the leading clubs to organise their own tournament, outside of UEFA’s management, in order not to share the revenues with it. The latest such attempt – to establish a Super League – was made most recently in the spring of 2021. It was not successful, but it clearly demonstrated the general trend.
Despite this, UEFA continues to manage European football centrally for the time being. This includes involvement in the organisation of the Champions League and its associated revenues. The most recent winners of the tournament were Chelsea who beat another English club, Manchester City, in the final.
The second most important tournament for club teams in Europe. It replaced the UEFA Cup in 2009. The participants are clubs, which did not make it to the Champions’ League, but which hold a leading position in their national championships.
Despite being less popular with fans, the Europa League is considered a prestigious tournament. The latest winner was Villarreal from Spain, who beat Manchester United from England on penalties.
A new tournament, the first edition of which will start in 2021-2022. The third most important tournament after the Champions League and Europa League. It will be made up of teams that are unsuccessful in the first two competitions but still aspire to play at international level.
The aim of the creation of the Conference League was to increase the number of participants in major European tournaments. Another objective of UEFA as a whole and the specific organisers of the new competition is to generate additional revenue. There is no doubt that the competition will be of interest to peripheral European countries whose clubs have little chance of winning the continent’s two major tournaments.
The competition has been staged since 1972. It is a game between the winners of the Champions’ Cup (then Champions’ League) and the Cup Winners’ Cup (then UEFA Cup and Europa League). This match kicks off every regular European club season.
The last UEFA Super Cup took place in 2020. The winner was Bayern from Germany, who beat Spain’s Sevilla 2-1. Other notable Super Cup winners are: “Barcelona and AC Milan (5 times each), Real Madrid and Liverpool (4 times each), Ajax and Atletico (3 times each).
UEFA Youth League
A relatively new tournament, first held as an experiment in 2013-2014. The UEFA Youth League is made up of the youth teams of clubs that play in the main competition of the Champions League.
In the short history of the competition, well-known clubs such as Chelsea (who won the first edition twice), Barcelona (also twice), Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, as well as four other European teams, have won.