In a bold move to alleviate the already congested calendar, FIFA reportedly consider reducing the number of teams to 18.

This proposal has ignited apprehension and debate among clubs and players. Thus, it has caused fears of a significant impact on the structure of European soccer leagues.

Currently, the Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A each feature 20 teams. Meanwhile, France’s Ligue 1 and the German Bundesliga operate with 18 teams. According to a report from The Sun, a working group within FIFA has been formed to address the growing concerns over the heavy fixture list. Thus, a source indicated that the Premier League‘s reduction to 18 teams might be imminent.

The source mentioned, “We all think that this is the ultimate aim from FIFA, to find a way of making us drop to 18. What you can put your money on is the working group saying there is too much domestic football.”

This potential restructuring comes amidst mounting tension over player welfare and fixture congestion. Clubs and players are increasingly vocal about the physical toll and risk of burnout caused by the dense schedule of matches.

Much backlash from clubs and players

The proposed changes are part of FIFA’s broader strategy, which includes the expansion of the Club World Cup to 32 teams, scheduled to take place in the United States from June 15 to July 13 next year. However, this expansion has met with resistance from clubs, particularly in England and Spain.

They fear the additional fixtures will exacerbate the already heavy load on players. Some clubs have even threatened legal action against FIFA due to the potential adverse consequences of the expanded tournament.

Mikel Arteta, the manager of Arsenal, recently highlighted the concerns shared by many clubs about the toll on players due to an overloaded schedule. The debate over fixture congestion is set to continue, as clubs across Europe grapple with balancing commercial interests, player welfare, and the integrity of the sport.

Also, La Liga president Javier Tebas voiced strong opposition to the proposed changes. “If we don’t take action, the industry is in danger. FIFA’s solution is just to create new competitions. But for that to happen and for us to be able to fit these competitions in, we would have to lose two clubs from La Liga.

“That would mean we’d have to make 70 players unemployed at those clubs and it would lose thousands of jobs related to those clubs. We need to fix the current problems before creating new competitions that will destroy the industry, clubs, jobs, the dreams of fans – and football.”

Premier League fixtures will be released in mid June
Premier League fixtures will be released in mid June

Premier League fixtures will be released in mid June

Italy recently voted against cutting league size

The 2024-25 season will already see an expanded Champions League with 36 teams. It would lead to a 51% increase in games, extending the group stage into a league format. This new system will include additional matchdays, further crowding the calendar.

Two weeks after the next UCL final, the new 32-team Club World Cup will kick off in the United States. This only highlights the relentless schedule top players face.

The players’ union, FIFPRO, has criticized the escalating number of games. They have also questioned the sustainability of maintaining 20-team domestic leagues under such conditions. In addition, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has suggested that leagues “should have 18 clubs”; though this view is not universally accepted among league presidents.

The Italian Serie A recently held a vote on reducing the league from 20 to 18 teams. Nonetheless, they overwhelmingly rejected the proposal. Only Juventus, Inter, Milan, and Roma supported the reduction, falling well short of the required majority.

Photo credit: IMAGO / NurPhoto