By Andrew Warshaw
October 21 – The simmering dispute over proposed changes to the Champions League escalated dramatically today when Europe’s major leagues threatened to rip up their working relationship with UEFA next spring unless the governing body meets their demands for the controversial deal to be either scrapped or tweaked.
Despite what were described as productive face-to face talks only two weeks ago with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, Lars-Christer Olsson (pictured), chairman of the 25-strong European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), said his organisation had “no other option” but to terminate the Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties next March if UEFA does not change the way negotiations are conducted.
Following the EPFL’s general assembly in Zurich, Olsson told a press conference all but two of his those present – Italy’s Serie A which voted against and Romania which abstained – backed the proposal to terminate the MoU “with an extended notice period” until March 15 in order to leave the door open for further talks.
“This will give us and UEFA sufficient time to negotiate a new agreement,” said Olsson. “It also makes it possible for UEFA to …take the necessary action before their ordinary congress in April.”
The get-tough approach by the EPFL came as something of a surprise given the “very fruitful” discussions the EPFL said were held between Olsson and Ceferin last month.
Olsson even told this website after meeting Ceferin that it was “less likely” the MoU would be terminated. But it now seems clear Europe’s leagues have lost patience with the Continent’s elite clubs, with whom UEFA struck the Champions League deal, and were anxious to send out a clear message that they were not prepared to be marginalised.
Under the three-season deal struck between UEFA and the European Club Association and starting in 2018, more group stage places will be set aside for teams from the top four leagues and fewer for clubs from smaller leagues, partly in order to stave off a much-threatened European Super League. Additionally, a club’s coefficient in terms of how it has performed historically in European competition will determine how much money it receives.
Olsson admitted that if no compromise can be reached with UEFA over the next few months, domestic league games could theoretically go head-to-head head with UEFA club competitions on the same night, something that until now has been outlawed.
“It means in practise that if we cannot find an agreement, of course the MoU will expire. If that happens, each individual league can make its own decision,” he said.
“It’s important for us to continue the dialogue with UEFA but also to set a deadline. We have an obligation towards our members. There is a general view that the current access list (to the Champions League) is better than the one being proposed for the new cycle.”
“The new proposal is also worse in relation to revenue distribution. It’s very difficult to explain why this is. It should decrease the gap between the rich and those who have less rather than the other way round.”
Denmark’s Claus Thomsen agreed. “This is about preserving the basic values that football fans love,” he said.
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