By Andrew Warshaw
September 9 – Europe’s top leagues have stepped up their opposition to UEFA’s plans to revamp the Champions League by angrily accusing the governing body of giving in to the demands of the wealthiest and most successful clubs.
Lars-Christer Olsson (pictured), president of European Professional Football Leagues, the umbrella group for 24 European domestic leagues, said UEFA had over-estimated the threat of breakaway Super League and had acted far too hastily.
The changes proposed mean more group stage places will be set aside for teams from the top four leagues and fewer for clubs from smaller leagues.
Olsson, who was UEFA chief executive from 2003 to 2007 and is well-placed to comment, raged: “UEFA has gone to bed with a limited number of clubs without taking into account the wishes and needs of everyone else.
“I think UEFA was afraid for no real reason. For the majority of clubs, domestic leagues are more important than international competitions.”
UEFA’s move will inevitably increase the financial gap between a handful of wealthy clubs and the rest. “We are asking UEFA to revoke the current decision and start the process all over again, I think it is a possible solution,” said Olsson.
From 2018, a club’s co-efficient in terms of how it has performed historically in European competition will determine how much money it receives. The European Club Association, which represents over 200 clubs, is backing the changes but Olsson said the deal would heavily reduce the chances of smaller teams earning a Champions League group spot.
“There has been no proper consultation at all before these decisions were made . What is happening now is if you are only taking four teams from the four bigger leagues, you are cementing the system.”
The EPFL’s main aim now, he added, was to get representation on UEFA’s executive committee, to have a “proper position for those who are representing the most important part in European professional football”.
Scotland is the latest league to denounce the UEFA changes with Professional Football League chief executive Neil Doncaster describing the changes as “regressive and protectionist.”
Doncaster warned that European football could go the way of North American sport which is generally organised on a closed-shop basis with no promotion or relegation.
“There needs to be a far stronger balance between sporting merit and commercial pressures, otherwise we risk an inexorable slide towards an NFL-style closed-shop system,” said Doncaster. “We know that many of our counterparts in other countries share our concerns about the nature of the decision-making process and the lack of consultation with European leagues.
“UEFA has a duty to act on behalf of the entire game, not just a few, select clubs and leagues and it must take that duty far more seriously if it is not to risk presiding over a harmful fragmentation of the game.”
The issue has suddenly become a pivotal discussion point going into next Wednesday’s UEFA presidential election in Athens in terms of which candidate can best serve the needs of individual associations.
UEFA have been quick to reject the EPFL’s claims, pointing to a “wide-ranging” consultation, including the leagues, while Slovenian federation president Aleksander Ceferin, who goes up against Michael van Praag for UEFA president, told the French daily L’Equipe, “If I’m elected I cannot change it,” adding pointedly: “For small clubs, like Slovenian ones, it’s not a good thing.”
Olsson told journalists that he had spoken to van Praag who had promised if he is elected to “look into the processes and procedures”.
Meanwhile, Bernard Caiazzo, president of France’s Premiere Ligue union that represents the country’s professional clubs, described the changes as “sad for French football”.
“This is a hasty decision and everyone is taken aback. This is a real scandal in form and substance. It’s a disaster,” he said. “Ninety percent of the clubs in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 even have the feeling of being violated by this reform.”
Olsson hopes however the dispute can still be resolved through dialogue. “I think that it’s possible with a new president in UEFA and a new executive committee coming up that it’s possible to have a proper dialogue to find solutions together, rather than having a revolution in European football.”
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