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 By Tim Vickery

Questions for CONMEBOL over Copa Libertadores, Sudamericana changes

Atletico Nacional celebrate
CONMEBOL have announced changes to the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana.

The South American Confederation, CONMEBOL, has announced it will be making big changes to its international club competitions.

Two trophies per year are up for grabs. By far the most prestigious is the Copa Libertadores, the continent's Champions League. And there is also a Europa League equivalent, known as the Copa Sudamericana.

As it stands, these are played separately, the Libertadores in the first half of the year and the Sudamericana in the second. From next year, CONMEBOL plan to run the two together. The Libertadores is set to take place from February to November, spanning 42 weeks rather than the current 27. The Sudamericana, meanwhile, will start earlier than before, in June, and go through until December.

The motives behind the change are almost certainly commercial, in the expectation the reconstituted tournaments will generate more revenue -- and perhaps head off a growing idea among the continent's leading clubs they should break away and organise their own competition.

But the new arrangement leaves some question marks hanging ...

Will the longer tournament suffer the effects of the mid-year transfer window?

One apparent advantage of cramming the Libertadores into the first half of the year is that the action takes place before teams are torn apart by the main transfer window in the European summer.

This year provides a good example of the dangers. The need to accommodate the Copa Centenario meant the Libertadores had to pause for a month-and-a-half between the quarterfinals and semifinals. During this break, eventual champions Atletico Nacional of Colombia lost two of their most important players, Victor Ibarbo and Jonathon Copete.

By the time the action resumed they had sold two more, Marlos Moreno and Davinson Sanchez, and were about to sell Sebastian Perez as well. They were able to keep hold of the trio until the trophy was won at the end of July but only because the season had not yet started in the countries to which they were moving. Had the final been in November, as it now will be, the trio would have moved on.

This shows the clear risk of a Libertadores extension -- by the time the closing stages come round, the outstanding players from the early stages may be tempted away, weakening further the level of play of the competition.

Atletico Nacional's Marlos Moreno agreed a deal to sign for Manchester City back in the summer.

Where will any new slots go?

CONMEBOL are talking of increasing the number of teams taking part in the Libertadores. Currently 38 go into the competition -- 12 into a qualifying round with the six winners moving into a group phase of 32, divided into eight groups.

The proposal would seem to be that in the future, 20 teams will take part in the qualifying round, with the 10 winners going into the group phase while the 10 losers are consoled with a place in the Copa Sudamericana.

But how would the division of any new places be organised? At the moment, Brazil and Argentina each have five representatives. The other nine countries have three each, and the addition of the reigning champions makes 38.

There were rumours -- swiftly denied by CONMEBOL -- that some giant clubs might receive invitations to participate, which would be most unfortunate for the credibility of the competition.

A one-off final at a neutral ground?

The Libertadores has always had a two-legged, home and away final format. It is now proposed the continent should follow Europe's lead and have a one-off final at a prearranged neutral venue.

South America, though, is not Europe. Distances are vast, transport infrastructure is patchy, mass salaries are relatively low and travel is expensive. A one-off final would be a showpiece occasion. But in the prevailing conditions, is it the best, most practical way to treat the fans?

Sergio Ramos
In Europe, the Champions League final is contested at a prearranged neutral venue. Real Madrid won in the San Siro this year.

Is it practical to hold the two competitions at the same time?

There is one obvious advantage about staging two club competitions one after the other. The Libertadores is clearly the main event, with the Sudamericana as something of a filler, a chance for less traditional teams to gain projection and international experience. But while it is running, the Sudamericana is not overshadowed. It is the only show in town.

Once the two competitions are played together, the status of the Sudamericana inevitably suffers a relegation. It becomes "the other one."

UEFA have problems of this type with the Europa League and the European audience have a consolidated culture of simultaneous competitions (it used to be three while the European Cup, Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Cup were all disputed).

South America does not have this culture. Supporters may be confused and clarity lost.

Moreover, the South American advertising and TV markets are less significant. How can the schedule be organised in such a way that the two competitions are not competing against each other?

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.


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