Football: Super League tacticians open new battle front

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THE MEN from Media Partners may have been conspicuous by their smart-suited elegance and their silence here on Friday, but as Uefa continued to stumble in semi-reluctant progress towards the creation of a European super league, the Milanese marketeers were taking the struggle for control of the future shape of European club football into a wholly different area.

Media Partners' announcement, that evening, that they had delivered a formal complaint to the European Commission against Uefa, their member associations and leagues, protesting at their actions in preventing Europe's top clubs being left free to talk to whoever they wish, suggests that this contest could turn a lot more nasty before it is resolved.

Clubs such as Real Madrid, Milan, Internazionale, Ajax and Bayern Munich know only too well what the potential revenue from a commercially-driven 21st Century super league could be, according to Media Partners' claims, and will find it very difficult to feel content if they accept the less attractive and less well-documented alternatives presented by Uefa on Friday.

At stake are many things, not least the financial well-being of these giants of the continental game. Media Partners' proposed European Football League gives the clubs ownership of the competition and a cut of approximately 80 per cent of the pounds 1.25bn turnover it will generate. Furthermore, the Media Partners plan is backed and guaranteed for three years by JP Morgan bank. Against this offer, Uefa produced flimsy promises of around pounds 300m in turnover and a lot of cautious hot air. No wonder the Italians remain confident, though in the end much will depend on what the European commissioner, Karel Van Miert, decides and in which direction the clubs choose to go.

A Media Partners' source yesterday said that their solicitors, Slaughter and May, were "highly confident" their formal complaint - that the football authorities have infringed EU competition rules by abusing their dominant position (contrary to Article 86 of the EC Treaty) and by preventing new bodies from organising and marketing football competitions in Europe - would succeed.

"We have taken this action to protect the clubs from the threat of sanctions from the established football authorities. As the reform of competitions continues apace, the clubs should be free to talk to whoever they wish, in order to achieve the best format for their supporters and for the game," the Media Partners president, Rodolfo Hecht, said.

In Geneva, the two most widely aired objections to the Media Partners plan were that it did not embrace any form or promotion or relegation in its first three years and that it therefore put clubs - such as Real Madrid and Barcelona - at risk of being thrown out of their domestic national league by their compatriots. This kind of threatening and bullying - the English Premiership clubs have been notably silent - may now be stopped.

Bayern Munich have remained particularly headstrong and independent and could be the fulcrum of the battle in the next few weeks as Media Partners' campaign gathers new strength. "What they showed us lacked detail and real information," the Bayern president, Karlheinz Rummenigge, said.

The fight is a long way from over. "We are not worried by the work of the Uefa Task Force," said another Italian Media Partners source. "We are comfortable and confident about our own position. We have not come this far, done this much work, without knowing what we want and what we are doing."

Whatever happens in Lisbon on Tuesday and Wednesday, when Uefa's Executive Committee meets to consider a report from the Task Force, it remains undeniable that the Media Partners proposals ignited the current surge of activity by the governing body and triggered the schism that divides the biggest and most avaricious clubs from the rest.

Threats by smaller clubs, working in groups in national leagues across Europe, to throw their celebrated giants out of domestic competition could still end up precipitating a breakaway league faster than they think.