While 2008 was a memorable and momentous year for UEFA on a variety of levels, 2009 also promises to have a wealth of excitement and innovative developments.
Changes to the UEFA Champions League access list, given the go-ahead by the UEFA Executive Committee late in 2007, will come into force for the 2009/10 season. Between the coming year and 2012, 22 teams will qualify directly for the UEFA Champions League group stage instead of 16. There will be no changes to the main part of European club football's most prestigious competition, which will continue to feature 32 teams split into eight groups of four in the group stage, followed by the knockout phase. The eight sides that finish in third place in their groups will move into the knockout phase of the new UEFA Europa League.
The 2009 UEFA Champions League final will be the last played on a Wednesday. From 2010 the final will take place on Saturdays as UEFA looks to make the final of European football's blue-riband competition into a true family event that can be seen by more children in particular.
UEFA Europa League
Another venerable European club competition will be setting out on a new adventure. The UEFA Cup, Europe's second major club competition since its launch in the 1971/72 campaign, has been given a new name by the UEFA Executive Committee, and will be known as the UEFA Europa League from the start of the 2009/10 season. It will have a new 48-team group stage, a new logo and a new visual identity, all designed to enhance the image of a competition that has long since proved its worth on the European stage.
UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™
Women's football will occupy centre stage later in the summer with the UEFA European Women's Championship final round in Finland from 23 August to 10 September. On the women's club football stage, the UEFA Women's Cup has been renamed the UEFA Women's Champions League from next season, a new format will be in place and the final will be played over one leg in the same city and week as the men's UEFA Champions League final.
Indeed, a spectacular Scandinavian summer is on the cards. While the top European women footballers are in action in Finland in August and September, the men's stars of tomorrow travel to Sweden for the eagerly-awaited UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals between 15 and 29 June. The event acts as a shop window on talented youngsters, some of whom will very soon be superstars on the world scene.
Europe's football parliament – the XXXIII Ordinary UEFA Congress – will also have a Nordic feel as representatives of UEFA's 53 member associations gather in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, in the spring to vote on a series of proposals and hear about current UEFA activities. UEFA has worked together for several years with the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network in an untiring campaign to rid football of the evils of racism and intolerance. In March, the Polish capital Warsaw will host the third UEFA/FARE Unite Against Racism Conference, where the football family and anti-racism campaigners will press home the message that racism has no place in the game.
Numerous issues will be at the top of UEFA's agenda in 2009. These include calls by the major sports bodies for sport's specific nature to be laid down in future European Union legislation. Discussions will be ongoing, among other things, on financial regulation in football and bringing balance to European competitions, the training, education and protection of young players, possible restrictions or prohibiting of transfers of young players below a certain age and the issue of locally-trained players in club teams.
A new full-time investigative team within UEFA's disciplinary unit will be working hard to tackle corruption and illegal betting in football. Assistance to UEFA's 53 member associations will be in full flow under the HatTrick assistance scheme. There are genuine hopes that the UEFA 'Respect' campaign will bring fresh spirit to the game. There is much for UEFA to do in 2009 – and much to look forward to in European football.
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.