By Andrew Warshaw
May 6 – As European leagues began a two-day session in Madrid to address controversial plans to overhaul the Champions League, Barcelona’s president stepped up the rhetoric by insisting the likely changes could only benefit Europe’s showpiece club competition.
Last month revelations about plans to radically alter the Champions League post-2024 and turn it into the nearest thing yet to a much-derided European Super League caused an unprecedented rift between Europe’s clubs and leagues, with a potentially damaging standoff that could destabilise the main stakeholders within the entire European football landscape.
Both sides are holding separate summits on the issue, the European Clubs Association (ECA) next month and European Leagues, the umbrella body for Europe’s major domestic leagues, Monday and Tuesday at a so-called Club Advisory Panel in the Spanish capital.
The debate has become ugly with tit-for-tat barbs from both sides but the leagues are in no mood to give ground during what are expected to be heated discussions spearheaded by outspoken La Liga chief Javier Tebas, followed by an eagerly awaited press conference Tuesday afternoon.
In the build-up to the Madrid summit, Bartomeu further fuelled the flames of disagreement by telling The Guardian newspaper that more games between elite teams was the way forward.
“Fans ask us for more European games. And from 2024 the new format will allow that. We’re going to change it for the better,” Bartomeu said.
“When we played Manchester United (this season) it was the first time they’d been here in 11 years. Against Liverpool it was the first since 2006. It can’t be that we play many games but not against teams like Liverpool and United.”
However, Bartomeu rejected suggestions that the ECA were planning what amounted to a closed league in ongoing discussions with UEFA.
“No- one’s talking about a closed league or a Super League. It will be an evolution, and attractive. It won’t be a revolution.”
Bartomeu also said he wants to revisit the idea playing top flight domestic games outside Spain after his club withdrew from La Liga’s proposed match between Barca and Girona in Miami last January, citing a “lack of consensus”.
“I want there to be three games abroad every year to promote La Liga – one in the US, one in the Middle East, one in Asia,” he said. “They watch us on TV and it’s a way of getting close to those fans.”
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