Football: Super league blueprint revealed

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RODOLFO HECHT, the man behind plans for a European super league, said yesterday in London that he had "absolute confidence" that the tournament would be up and running by the summer of 2000.

However, Hecht, president of Milan-based Media Partners, faces a struggle with the leaders of Europe's major leagues, who rejected his plans at a meeting in Geneva yesterday.

"Until we had the final shape of the concept, we didn't want to go public with it," Hecht said. Hecht met on Monday with Europe's leading clubs, including Manchester United and Arsenal, and now feels his ambition of the last three years is close to becoming a reality.

Yesterday, he outlined in detail for the first time precisely how his company's plans will work. The main competition will be known as the European Football League and will consist of 32 teams in two divisions. Sixteen clubs, which would be known as "founder members", have been invited to join on the basis of their "sporting merit" over the past 10 years. These clubs - including Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool - are those which have the best 10-year performance records in their countries according to Media Partners' analysis. Their place in the ESL would be guaranteed on a three-yearly basis and changed as their fortunes on the pitch fluctuate. "The criteria is rooted in on the pitch performance," Hecht said.

The other 16 sides will qualify for the ESL on the basis of performance in their own domestic league, season by season. At least one of these places would be given to an English side, in addition to the three named clubs, should those clubs chose to participate. A second competition - the Pro Cup - will see another 56-plus teams (including at least six more from England) contest a knock-out, Uefa Cup style competition.

Teams in the super league will be guaranteed nearly pounds 20m each per season for taking part. Hecht chose yesterday to reveal his plans because he now feels he has the support of Europe's major clubs to go ahead.

That support is not forthcoming from leagues in which the clubs play. Uefa's Committee for Professional Football said in Geneva yesterday it opposed the project. Antonio Matarrese, the committee's chairman and a Uefa vice-president, said: "The committee does not feel it deserves our attention."

The meeting was attended by the Uefa general secretary, Gerhard Aigner, and the heads of European leagues, including Peter Leaver of the Premier League.

Matarrese said there were "moments of antagonism" among members but they all were in agreement in opposing the super league plan.

However, Uefa could seek to head off the threat of a breakaway league at a meeting in Monaco on Saturday, where changes to the format of the three major European club championships will be discussed. Aigner confirmed yesterday plans to merge the Uefa Cup and Cup-Winners' Cup.