Football: Super league strides forward

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The Independent Online
A EUROPEAN super league moved a giant step closer yesterday when the continent's leading clubs met in London to discuss proposals for the competition and were given assurances it would be beneficial for the game as a whole.

Rodolfo Hecht, the president of Media Partners - the Milan-based marketing and sports' rights company behind the plan - told representatives of the clubs, including Manchester United and Arsenal, that qualification for the competition would be based, to some extent at least, on merit.

Hecht also assured the clubs they could expect much higher revenues from the proposed competition than they receive from current European competitions and added his company wanted to work alongside national associations and Uefa, European football's governing body, to bring the super league plan to fruition.

"Media Partners can confirm that a productive meeting took place today in London with a number of Europe's leading football clubs," said a statement issued yesterday by the company. "The well- attended meeting discussed further the proposals to develop the European Football League."

Precise details of Media Partners' plans were not announced, but it is understood the league being considered may consist of up to 32 teams in two divisions. There will also be a European knock-out cup tournament, featuring 60-plus other sides and provisionally called the Pro Cup. The competitions would replace the three existing European tournaments - the Champions' League, the Uefa Cup and the Cup-Winners' Cup - but would not threaten domestic club competitions, which would continue to operate as now.

A source close to Media Partners said after yesterday's meeting: "The project is moving ahead with enthusiasm and great momentum."

No official comment has been made by any of the clubs approached to take part in the league, but a source close to Manchester United said: "To be honest, the tide is turning. The [Media Partners'] proposals are gaining a lot of merit."

Media Partners' plans essentially differed from current competitions in that participating clubs would be financially better off. "All that's happening is that more money is released," the source added. "For the clubs themselves, it is looking attractive."

Yesterday's meeting was the first of three this week that could see a super league become reality in the near future. The second meeting, in Geneva today, will see the Professional Leagues' Committee - the heads of the major European leagues, including Peter Leaver, chief executive of the Premier League - discuss Media Partners' proposals and decide how they want European club competitions to change.

The Committee, set up over a year ago to make representations to Uefa about how the continent's domestic leagues feel European club competitions should be run, is long known to have felt change is needed in European football. Their hand in negotiations with Uefa will have been strengthened by yesterday's events.

The third meeting - and perhaps the most decisive - will see Uefa's Executive Committee convene in Monaco on Saturday to discuss recent events and decide how to progress. Saturday's meeting will be attended not only by Lennart Johansson, Uefa's president, but also by Sepp Blatter, the head of Fifa, world football's governing body. Blatter's invitation to attend signifies how seriously Uefa is taking Media Partners' plans, and may also signal Uefa intends to announce sweeping changes to European club football.

It has been reported Uefa is considering enlarging the Champions' League from 24 to 32 teams and merging the Uefa and Cup-Winners' Cups. But whether this would satisfy those clubs contemplating a super league is debatable. Another possibility is that Uefa would consider working alongside Media Partners, and despite denials from Uefa that this is the case, it seems an increasingly likely option.

A European super league now seems inevitable in the near future, and unless Uefa is flexible - such as taking the role of "league regulator" reportedly offered by Media Partners - it may find itself isolated, and no longer influential in the game.

Ultimately, financial considerations are likely to decide matters. Media Partners is promising to not only generate more revenue - something that the company's background in pay-per-view may help deliver - but also to provide most of it to the participating clubs. Uefa, which is increasingly losing the confidence of the biggest clubs under its umbrella, will have to offer at least as much to keep clubs interested. A long week lies ahead.

More football, page 23

THREE STEPS TO A REVOLUTION

The meetings that could change the face of European football

1 When: Yesterday Where: London Who: Rodolfo Hecht, president of Media Partners; plus representatives of Europe's leading football clubs, including Manchester United, Arsenal, Milan, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Internazionale and Ajax.

Agenda: Hecht outlined Media Partners' proposals in full, including, crucially, that participation in its competitions (a league and a knock- out cup) will be based, to some extent, on merit.

2When: Today Where: Geneva Who: The European Professional Leagues' Committee: including Italy's Antonio Matarrese (the committee president and also a Uefa vice-president), Peter Leaver (chief executive of the Premier League), Franco Carraro (head of the Italian league), Gerhard Aigner (Uefa general secretary); plus the heads of the football leagues of Portugal, Romania, Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Spain.

Agenda: To discuss Media Partners' proposals and consider how European club competitions should be changed. Possible outcome will be an ultimatum to Uefa to change its tournaments drastically (and soon, after close consultation with national leagues), or lose control.

3When: Saturday Where: Monaco Who: The Uefa Executive Committee: including Lennart Johansson, Uefa's president; Antonio Matarrese; and committee members from Germany, Turkey, Norway, Ireland, Czech Republic, Russia, Cyprus, Malta, Switzerland, Netherlands, Spain. Plus: Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, world football's governing body. His invitation suggests Uefa feels radical changes to football are imminent.

Agenda: What next for European football? Uefa said at the weekend it has its own changes planned for its competitions. These might be expansion of the Champions' League and merging of the two knock-out cups. The key issue will be: Can Uefa match the revenue being offered by Media Partners, or should it consider working alongside the company?

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