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Aleksander Čeferin: UEFA Europa Conference League shows football is for everyone

UEFA President believes new European club competition gives more players a chance to fulfil their dreams of playing football at the highest level.

Aleksander Ceferin holds the UEFA Europa Conference League trophy during the 2021/22 group stage draw
Aleksander Ceferin holds the UEFA Europa Conference League trophy during the 2021/22 group stage draw UEFA via Getty Images

The inaugural edition of the UEFA Europa Conference League demonstrates that football is for everyone and not just a rich elite, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin stated on Friday.

Addressing the competition’s first ever group stage draw in Istanbul, Mr Čeferin highlighted its importance in giving every footballer the chance to fulfil their dream of playing big European match nights.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin on the UEFA Europa Conference League

"I think this competition shows that small countries can play with bigger countries, everybody can play everyone," said the UEFA President. "Football is not a sport for the elite, (for) only the rich people in sport. It is our sport, and it can never be taken away from us."

More clubs experiencing thrill of European football

By making spots available to each of its 55 national associations, UEFA’s third men’s club competition is already ensuring that more teams and their supporters are experiencing first-hand the thrill of European football.

Of the 184 teams that have taken part in the debut edition many had never previously been involved in a UEFA competition, while eight have qualified for a European group stage for the first time: FC Alashkert (Armenia), FK Bodø/Glimt (Norway), Flora (Estonia), FC Kairat (Kazakhstan), Lincoln Red Imps FC (Gibraltar), NŠ Mura (Slovenia), Randers FC (Denmark) and Union Berlin (Germany).

Prior to this season, no club from the Armenian Premier League, Estonia’s Meistriliiga or the Gibraltar National League had ever participated in a UEFA club competition group stage.

How the UEFA Europa Conference League will work

Larne FC: a 'pinch-yourself' moment

For Larne FC, a Northern Irish club, reaching the first qualifying round of the Europa Conference League last month achieved a long-held ambition.

"It's been one of our big aims; one of the big landmarks was to get into Europe," said Larne’s general manager Niall Curneen last July. "We've been aiming for a number of years but it's still a 'pinch-yourself' moment. Seeing all the correspondence from UEFA and the Irish Football Association, it's just been amazing.

"There are people who have been involved in the club for much longer than I have, and to see those people with tears in their eyes at the play-off was unbelievable. Many would never have thought of 'Larne' and 'European football' in the same sentence, and here we are."