‘United’ ECA fail to find agreement on Champions League reform

By Samindra Kunti

September 11 – The European Club Association (ECA) and its chairman Andrea Agnelli (pictured) have said that reform talks to restructure European club football might drag on another  “18 months”  or even have a 2022  deadline after failing to find enough of a consensus for the current proposal of a 32-team Champions League with a guaranteed entry for 24 clubs. They maintain however that the proposal isn’t dead in the water yet. 

There were plenty of buzzwords flying around in Geneva following the ECA’s latest meeting – symbiosis, transparency, requirement for change, unity, principles and vice chairman Darius Mioduski even stressed that there was no need to overdramatize – but the ECA, increasingly a talk shop, fostered little progress with plans to reshape the outlook of European football.

“At the top, some things need tweaking,” said former Crystal Palace midfielder Aki Riihalahti, current chief executive at HJK Helsinki. “At the other end, I have rarely seen such agreement. Change is needed.”

Back in the summer the ECA met in Malta and the organisation had envisaged that plans for a semi-closed Champions League and a three-tiered European club competitions structure would be finalized in Geneva and then passed on to European ruling body UEFA for rubber-stamping, but those plans have faltered amid widespread differing opinions in European football. In the past three months ECA has failed to find common ground among clubs and leagues. Agnelli however indicated that the proposal isn’t entirely off the cards yet, even though he had seemed to have back tracked over the plans in recent days.

“The proposal is in the interests of all and it is a good proposal,” said Agnelli. “Will it be the one that arrives first at the finishing line? It might not be. What matters to us are principles.”

Notwithstanding all the unity that Agnelli and Riihalahti have trumpeted, it increasingly seems that ECA and other stakeholders will have to go back to the drawing board to formulate a new plan and Agnelli admitted that talks might stretch as far as 2022, the year commercial rights for the new post-2024 cycle must be marketed. Agnelli acknowledged the proposal might need tweaks. “We could be looking at eighteen months easily,” said Agnelli. “We know we have to find an answer by 2022, because that is when they have to go to the market. The real deadline, if you want, is 2022.”

The current proposal is believed to be opposed by the top five European Leagues, who want to protect their domestic competitions and commercial rights, but even smaller leagues have contended that the annual battle for Champions League tickets is key to their competitions. Last June, a number of ECA members had already broken rank and come out with criticism of the proposal. That same month the 20 English topflight clubs also condemned the plan, deeming it ‘inappropriate.’

At the general assembly in Geneva, Agnelli was re-elected as ECA chairman for a four-year term.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1576436018labto1576436018ofdlr1576436018owedi1576436018sni@o1576436018fni1576436018