Football: Europe closer to super league after Uefa's shake-up: Half Continent's champions to enter Uefa Cup

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ENGLISH clubs will benefit from radical changes to the European Cup which from next season will become even more the preserve of a rich elite. The competition's new, slimmed-down format brings the formation of a super league one step closer.

In the latest reconstruction of its glamour competition, Uefa has bowed to the wishes of the powerful clubs and told half its 48 member nations that, rather than entering their champions in the European Cup, they will have to make do with a place in the enlarged Uefa Cup.

The promised land of the Champions' League now becomes an automatic right for eight clubs, the defending champions and those seven with the best record in all European competitions over the previous five years. Manchester United, who won the Cup-Winners' Cup two years ago, would have qualified this season and such is the recent record of English clubs in Europe that alternative Premiership champions are unlikely to have to fight their way through the preliminary round.

However, for the smaller countries the road to riches in the European Cup is no longer open. The romantic notion of Cwmbran from the Konica League of Wales being drawn against the Italian champions can no longer apply. Not surprisingly, those now deprived of their chance of glory are unhappy.

Alun Evans, secretary of the Football Association of Wales, accused the European governing body, Uefa, of 'pandering to the game's elite', while Irish clubs discuss the implications at a meeting in Dublin tonight.

While new countries have emerged in eastern Europe, Uefa admits that the influence of television was crucial. Ninety per cent of TV revenue comes from just five countries: Germany, Spain, France, Italy and England.

The Uefa president, Lennart Johansson, said: 'We have to take into account the sponsors, television, the spectators, the arrival of new countries and clubs' desires to preserve their reputations. The weaknesses of the system were evident. For example, there is no guarantee that teams from the stronger (sporting and financial) countries will qualify.

'Should one of the teams in question be eliminated at an early stage, interest in the competition plummets in their country and future financing is threatened because television might no longer be prepared to take a risk on their teams getting through.'

Meanwhile, the Football Association has appointed the BBC presenter, David Davies, as director of public affairs with a brief of improving its relationship with the media.

Ian Wright has signed a new four-year contract with Arsenal, extending his Highbury career to his 34th birthday.

Manchester United have strengthened their position as favourites for the Coca-Cola Cup after the quarter-final draw gave them lower-division opposition.

COCA-COLA CUP Quarter-final draw: Manchester United v Peterborough or Portsmouth; Liverpool or Wimbledon v Sheffield Wednesday; Nottingham Forest or Manchester City v Tranmere; Tottenham v Aston Villa. (Ties to be played week commencing 10 January.)

----------------------------------------------------------------- EUROPEAN CUP 1994-95 ----------------------------------------------------------------- How the 16 competing teams qualify for the European Champions' League 1: This season's winners. 2-8: Seven champion clubs with the best European records over the last five seasons. 9-16: Eight winners of a European Cup preliminary round in August featuring the 16 champion clubs ranked next on merit. The Champions' League will comprise 16 teams in four groups of four. Group matches will take place between September and December. Top two from each group proceed to knock-out quarter-finals in March. Uefa will rank national league champions on their record in European cups over last five seasons - either the club's or, if they have none, that of other clubs from their country. The 24 champion clubs that fail to gain entry for the European Cup, and 76 other clubs, qualify for the Uefa Cup, which will have a 72-team preliminary round. The Cup-Winners' Cup is unchanged. Uefa now has 48 members: Moldova and Azerbaijan were given provisional membership yesterday. -----------------------------------------------------------------