Football: Premier League opens the door

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THE PREMIER League said yesterday it was prepared to negotiate with Media Partners, the Italy-based marketing company behind a proposed super league, over the future of football in Europe.

Although the move reduces the possibility of a breakaway league, it may lead to confrontation between Uefa, European football's governing body, and the Premier League. It may also lead to some role in European football for Media Partners, a move thought highly unlikely until the Premier League understood how seriously some of its clubs were considering breaking away.

The news came after a meeting between 20 Premier League chairmen and Media Partners yesterday morning in London. Peter Leaver, the chief executive of the Premier League, said afterwards: "We had a very positive meeting. The mood of the meeting was to look forward. The meeting listened very carefully to presentations from Media Partners and Uefa and noted the points made.

"There was clear and unanimous opposition to the suggestion of a breakaway but it was agreed that reform of European club competitions was needed," he said.

Media Partners' proposals, which were put to the chairmen yesterday, include a three-tier league of 36 clubs, and a knock-out competition involving 96 clubs from all of Uefa's 51 domestic leagues. Media Partners said that domestic leagues would continue to operate as normal.

The Premiership clubs were told that 10 places will be available each season for them (four in the league, and six in the cup) and a total of pounds 44m would be shared between the four in the league and at least pounds 28m with the six in the cup.

The proposals would be funded through the sale of television rights, and would guarantee Media Partners having a six-year marketing role.

Leaver stressed that any further negotiations with Media Partners would happen through the Premier League and not by individual clubs, several of whom - including Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool - have had secret negotiations about the plans. It is understood that several clubs met with Media Partners after yesterday morning's meeting to continue planning the super league, and that the Premier League will have more meetings of its own in the near future.

"We will continue to welcome, through the League, talks with interested parties and to work closely with Uefa's task force [set up last weekend to plan change for Uefa's competitions] to bring about positive change in the interests of English football," Leaver said. "Nothing is in. Nothing is out. The paper is blank. We'll have to see what develops."

In an unprecedented move, Gerhard Aigner, Uefa's general-secretary was invited to address the 20 Premier League chairman. Uefa's stance so far has been to completely reject Media Partners' proposals and Aigner's comments as he left the meeting suggest it has not changed. "We don't need television people to develop football concepts," he said, and maintained Uefa had no intention of working with Media Partners.

Leaver said Media Partners' plans have been a "good stick with which to beat Uefa" into making changes to its competitions and give more money to the clubs participating. The Uefa task force - which includes Leaver - will meet on 14 September in Geneva and aims to prepare a report in time for the Uefa executive meeting on 6 October. Potential conflict lies ahead.