The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Competitions Committee’s commitment to further strengthen Asian club football marked a significant milestone today after it approved several game-changing reforms aimed at heralding a new era of success and unrivalled progress.
In March 2022, the AFC Executive Committee agreed to establish the Elite Club Competition Task Force at its ninth meeting and the landmark revamps further reinforce the AFC’s ambitions, through its Vision and Mission, to stage world-class competitions for its Member Associations (MAs).
Perhaps the most significant reforms to be introduced since the enhancements to the AFC Champions League in 2009, amongst the recommendations include the introduction of new competition formats, lifting of the foreign player quota and increasing the financial distribution for participating clubs.
Additionally, the new formats will ensure the AFC’s Club Competitions remain at the forefront of improving technical performance, driving greater commercial value, and exciting Asia’s passionate fans.
The new formats will see the Continent’s 76 participating clubs compete for supremacy across three tiers instead of the current two-tier structure.
The top tier will comprise 24 participating clubs in total, divided into 12 teams across the West and East regions competing in a league format.
Each club will play four home and four away matches against eight different clubs within its region, with the top eight sides from both regions – 16 in total – advancing to the Round of 16 stages, which will be played in a home and away format.
The eight winners of the Round of 16 will then advance to the Quarter Finals, which along with the Semi-Finals and Final, will be played in single-leg ties at a centralised venue which will showcase the final stage of the AFC’s elite club football.
Meanwhile, the second tier of Asian club football will see 32 participating clubs divided into eight groups of four teams each. The clubs will face off home and away in a round-robin format in the Group Stage, with the top two sides advancing to the Round of 16.
The Round of 16, Quarter Finals, and Semi-Finals will be contested over two legs with the Final competed in a single-leg decider.
Finally, Tier 3 will comprise 20 participating clubs divided into five groups. The clubs will compete in single-leg ties to be played in a centralised format with the top eight sides qualifying for the Quarter Finals.
The Quarter Finals and Semi Finals will be played over two legs, both home and away before the coveted Final is staged over a single-leg contest.
The strategic reforms also pave the way for more opportunities for participating clubs from different zones to compete against each other as the competitions transition from their current five-zone format to the East and West regions.
In addition, the losing teams from the Preliminary and Playoff stages of the top tier will be given the opportunity to participate in the second tier, and likewise, the losing teams from the Preliminary and Playoff stages of the second tier competition will participate in the third tier.
As a result of the revamp, the total number of club football matches are expected to increase from a minimum of 274 to 287.
FOREIGN PLAYER QUOTA
In February 2022, the AFC Executive Committee approved the recommendation to increase the foreign players’ quota in the Player Selection List from the existing 3+1 quota to 5+1 (five players of any nationality and one from an AFC MA), which will continue to apply to the 2023-24 season.
In another breakthrough decision aimed at enhancing the quality and stature of the AFC Club Competitions, the Committee also agreed to recognise each MA’s domestic regulations on foreign player registration and remove the foreign player registration quota from the 2024/25 season onwards.
CLUB COMPETITIONS RANKING AND SLOT ALLOCATION
At the same time, members noted the need to introduce a calculation methodology that better reflects the new competition formats, whilst noting the challenges and impact brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020 to 2022 seasons.
It has been approved that the Club Competitions Ranking to determine the Slot Allocation for the 2024/25 season onwards will be based on the performance of the MAs’ participating clubs from the previous eight years (with weighted value) to better reflect their historical performance.
The MAs’ final points will be based on the performance average of all clubs in the AFC Club Competitions Group Stage onwards which will be applied retroactively for re-calculation of the MAs’ 2021 and 2022 points for the AFC Club Competitions Ranking 2022.
Additionally, in determining the slot allocation for the respective club competitions, the Committee agreed on a new slot allocation that will allocate the clubs across the three competitions. The new slot allocation will provide the opportunity for titleholders to participate in the next edition of the AFC Club Competitions, adding extra sporting value for the participating clubs in each tier.
Members of the Committee also noted the plans in the pipeline to increase significantly the financial distribution to Participating Clubs with more details to be determined and communicated in due course.
Further details on the strategic reforms, including the competition titles of the three tiers, match scheduling principles, calendar and regulations will be finalised and communicated in due course.
All decisions will need to be ratified by the AFC Executive Committee before taking effect.