Football: Uefa winning `super league' war

PLANS BY Uefa to reform its club competitions in a bid to fend off the proposed rival super league received the backing of 12 of Europe's top clubs yesterday.

Representatives from Real Madrid, Milan, Manchester United, Liverpool and eight other leading clubs said at a meeting with European football's ruling body that its proposals for modifying the European Champions' League are acceptable. They also appeared to distance themselves from the breakaway super league proposed by the private Italian sports management company, Media Partners, saying the project is now "lying dormant."

Adriano Galliani, the vice president of Milan, said: "Uefa has come up with practical proposals and I think we can say that this meeting [in Geneva] has historical importance."

Earlier this month Uefa revealed plans to extend next season's Champions' League to include 32 clubs playing in eight groups of four teams in the first stage. The competition currently comprises 24 teams. The new format will include more teams from Europe's top-ranking football nations, while also incorporating more teams from smaller nations, broadening the potential television audience for games. The Uefa Cup and the CupWinners' Cup will be merged into one competition.

The proposed reforms are part of Uefa's attempt to dissuade Europe's top clubs from defecting to Media Partners' super league. The Milan-based firm is trying to entice the Continent's top clubs with a pay-out of around pounds 750m for participation in its Super League - far more than the pounds 200m generated by the Champions' League in 1997-98, of which pounds 100m went to the clubs.

Galliani said the 12 clubs were ready to accept, in principle, Uefa's Champions' League proposals. He said the Media Partners proposal had been of considerable interest to the clubs, but said they currently do not have contact with the firm.

The president of Real Madrid, Lorenzo Sanz, said the 12 clubs are ready to co-operate with Uefa not just in their own interests but for the whole of European football. He added the clubs had been surprised by Uefa's "good footwork".

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