June 6 – A potentially pivotal two-day summit of Europe’s leading clubs to discuss controversial proposals to revamp the Champions League has been plunged into disarray with the Spanish and English both openly rebelling against the plans.
A special assembly in Malta of the European Clubs Association (ECA) beginning today and running through Friday was expected to provide a platform for supporting UEFA’s blueprint – backed by the ECA leadership – to overhaul its elite competition from 2024 and stave off criticism from leagues across Europe.
Under the plans the tournament would feature four groups of eight according to reports, with the top six teams qualifying for the following year’s edition regardless of where they finish in their domestic leagues.
But seven Spanish teams, not including Barcelona and Real Madrid but led by Atletico Madrid, have protested against the proposals to turn the Champions League into a largely closed competition – as have the rest of Spain’s ECA representatives apart from the two giants.
“The new European Club Competitions model proposed by UEFA and the Executive Board of the ECA represents a potential great threat, not only to national leagues and the great majority of clubs, but for all European football, representing a frontal attack to the competitive balance and to the stability of domestic competitions,” Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Malaga, Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Villarreal wrote in a letter to the ECA administration.
Europe’s leagues argue the joint UEFA-ECA initiative, which crucially includes promotion and relegation, would destroy domestic competition and now they appear to be gaining allies from ECA members switching sides.
“We firmly believe that European competitions should be a reward for excellence,” the Spanish clubs wrote, “in which the best teams participate in a competition open to all, based on the principles of sporting merit, solidarity among clubs, fair distribution, etc.”
Also breaking ranks were England’s Premier League who said they were in “unanimous agreement that the domestic game should continue to be the priority.”
In a clear rebuke to the ECA leadership, the English clubs declared their “strong opposition to the proposed reform . . . which would alter the structure, calendar and competitiveness of league football”.
“Critically, qualification for the Champions League and the Europa League must continue to depend on current domestic performance”.
The respective stances of English and Spanish clubs will make awkward reading for ECA president Andrea Agnelli, chairman of Juventus and a key architect of the proposals.
Agnelli now has the task of trying to pacify protesting members and steer them all in the same direction in order for the plans to maintain traction and momentum and prevent a potentially damaging split among the ECA’s 200-plus clubs.
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