Football: Battle for control of Europe hots up

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The Independent Online
THE WAR of words surrounding a proposed European super league escalated yesterday as the company behind the plan said it was "more confident than ever" the project will go ahead by summer 2000 and the Football Association said any players taking part in a breakaway league would be stopped from playing for its national sides.

The developments came as Media Partners - the Italy-based marketing company behind the league - prepared for a meeting today with the chairmen of the Premier League's 20 clubs to outline its proposals.

Arsenal and Manchester United - two of the clubs that have been involved in negotiations with Media Partners for the past few months - will undoubtedly come under severe pressure to explain their position to their fellow Premiership sides. Although expulsion from the Premier League at this stage is highly unlikely, the chairmen of several smaller clubs are understood to be angry at the prospect of Arsenal and United, as well as perhaps Liverpool, joining a venture - motivated by money - that will replace current Uefa-run competitions such as the Champions' Cup.

The meeting will be addressed by a representative from Media Partners, as well as Peter Leaver, the chief executive of the Premier League. Leaver is also on the committee set up by Uefa last weekend to look at changes to existing competitions.

Keith Wiseman, the chairman of the FA, made a pre-emptive strike against Media Partners' plans yesterday when he said clubs that took part would be thrown out of all domestic competitions and their players would be banned from playing international matches.

Wiseman stressed this action would be taken only in "an extreme situation" but said: "What those seeking the breakaway have not taken account of is they are talking about playing unsanctioned football entirely outside the jurisdiction of the whole football body. I think it logically follows from that they are not able to play inside it as well."

Wiseman's threats may not be backed up with action, however, as Uefa said yesterday it had not declared any position on banning players involved in a super league from international matches. "We never said that," a spokesman said.

Media Partners has taken 40,000 hours of legal advice on this and other matters and it is thought that European law would probably find in its favour should the matter have to be decided in the European courts.

For events to proceed that far will depend on whether the league materialises, and that will rest on how attractive Media Partners' plans to the clubs involved are, and how quickly Uefa comes up with its proposals for change.

"I think the structure of the game will survive and it is vital that it does," Wiseman said. "We are probably looking at a period of several months for Uefa to put together their proposal."

Media Partners, meanwhile, announced that further meetings have taken place in the past three days with clubs involved. "Improvements to the structure of the competitions have been made, having listened not only to the clubs but also to supporters, the national leagues and Uefa," said its statement.

The planned league, said Media Partners, would involve a 36-team, two- tier league and a 96-team knock-out cup, including sides from all territories covered by Uefa's 51 associations. Today's meeting is not likely to be conclusive in deciding the fate of European football, but its outcome will be significant.