Foreign owners such as those at Manchester United and Liverpool are "a serious threat" to European football, the Uefa president, Michel Platini, said yesterday, blaming them for obstructing his Champions League reform.
In a letter to all 27 European Union leaders – including Gordon Brown, Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy – Platini asks them to protect the sport from "a distortion". The letter says: "A serious threat hangs over the development of European football: the malign and ever-present influence of money."
Platini's special adviser, William Gaillard, said the former France international believed the billionaire backers of Manchester United and Liverpool were behind the opposition to plans to give domestic cup winners a Champions League spot. Last week, the G14 group, which represents 18 of Europe's most powerful clubs, said it was opposed to the proposals.
"I know G14 have said this but from our discussions it seems the main opposition is at Liverpool and Manchester United, who have investors out to make a quick buck and are only looking at the financial risks of the reform plan and not the sporting merits," Gaillard said. "By giving away a spot in their league to cup winners, they see this as reducing their chances of entering the lucrative Champions League."
Gaillard was quick to differentiate Liverpool and United's American owners from Chelsea's Russian owner, Roman Abramovich and Milan's Silvio Berlusconi, who, according to Gaillard, Platini believes "love the game and are not just in it for money".
In his letter, Platini says: "Money has always been in sport ... but money has never been the ultimate objective of football, the main purpose has been to win trophies. For the first time we may be entering an era in which financial profit alone will be the measure of sporting success."
Liverpool's chief executive, Rick Parry, described the letter and Gaillard's comments as "absurd". Manchester United were unavailable for comment. "I made it absolutely clear [to Platini] last week that I was representing the views of the majority of English Premier League clubs when I said we do not support the reform plan," Parry said. "I didn't even discuss this issue with our owners prior to last week.
"Bottom line is that allowing the cup winners into the competition devalues the Premier League."