Football: Uefa set to unveil revamped Champions' League format

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The Independent Online
FOLLOWING MONTHS of argument over the future of European club football, Uefa's executive committee meets today and tomorrow to put in place a revamped Champions' League and Uefa Cup.

Europe's top clubs have endorsed plans for a new 32-team Champions' League, designed by Uefa to fight off a breakaway Super League. But the starting date, set-up and financial structure of the new competitions remain to be approved at the meeting in Lausanne.

"We have set the sails for a start next season," Uefa's general secretary Gerhard Aigner said last week. Top clubs want an early start to boost earnings.

The Super League project was launched earlier this year by the Milan- based marketing company Media Partners, which said new pay-per-view TV rights would help boost annual revenues for Europe's leading clubs.

The clubs were concerned that, of the $322m generated by last season's Champions' League, only $157m went to the teams. As the Super League plans gained momentum with secret meetings of the top clubs, Uefa, which has run European football since 1954, threatened to suspend clubs and players opting into the League. It also set up a task force, involving senior executives of European leagues and clubs as well as Uefa officials, to examine the future of European football competitions.

Uefa came up with a new Champions' League format which it expects will generate some $570m, with around three-quarters of the proceeds being distributed to clubs. Though falling short of the Super League's jackpot, Uefa insists its prize money is guaranteed.

It has said it would investigate the possibility of matches being shown on pay-per-view television in order to finance the revamped league. Broadcasting contracts and marketing would remain under Uefa's control.

The competition will be expanded from 24 teams to 32, playing in eight groups of four in the first stage. The European governing body's efforts in October persuaded representatives of Milan, Real Madrid and 10 other major clubs not to join the Super League. The clubs agreed that five per- cent of the money they receive from the new competition should go to the leagues of participating teams.

"With every meeting that we have there is more confidence coming from the various parties," Aigner said after last week's final task force meeting. Also up for approval is a new-look Uefa Cup, combining the existing Uefa Cup and Cup-Winners' Cup. It would start with 96 teams, the same number as the competitions it replaces.

This cup would be joined in its third round by eight teams knocked out of the Champions' League after finishing third in their groups - giving "more quality," according to Aigner.

Under the new Champions' League format, the first and second-placed teams from all eight groups would advance to a two-leg, single-elimination second round before the quarter-final stage. Countries whose teams reach the new Uefa Cup's quarter-finals would receive an extra berth in the following season's competition.

Police in the city of Satu Mare in northern Romania have detained the former president of the Olimpia Satu Mare club on charges of embezzlement. "Vasile Boudi was detained on charges of embezzlement as the head of the local football club by the local prosecutor's office," a spokesman said yesterday. "The damage amounts to pounds 650,000 within two years while Boudi was president." Boudi was Olimpia's president in 1997 and 1998. Olimpia are 16th in the 18-team league and look sure to be relegated to the Second Division.