Uefa rules out Champions' League changes

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The Independent Online

Gerhard Aigner, Uefa's chief executive, has warned the G-14 group of élite clubs not to press for further changes to the Champions' League which will ensure its members automatic entry to Europe's most lucrative competition.

In a passionate defence of the need for unpredictability to maintain football's credibility, the head of European football's ruling body emphasised that qualification for Uefa competitions must always be based on sporting merit. "No single club, no single individual or grouping is bigger than the contribution made to the well-being of football by successful competitions," Aigner said in a speech at the International Football Congress at the Planet Football fair in Barcelona.

"We all recognise the importance of uncertainty, of risk and romance, of the possibilities of upsets and of diversity.

"For us in Europe this is about creating a mix in our competitions and guaranteeing that participation is based on sporting merit so that, for example, all of the 51 countries within Uefa have at least the possibility of participating in a top-class competition."

Among those watching was Joan Gaspart, the Barcelona president and chief spokesman for the G-14 clubs, who had their latest meeting in the Catalan city on Tuesday.

"There are some who argue that Uefa's top competitions should narrow their focus and concentrate only on the major markets," Aigner continued. "For me, this would be a grave mistake.

"Of course, we have to ensure that the strength of the leading footballing nations is properly accounted for through mechanisms such as seeding and qualification procedures but we must also ensure that sporting qualities determine outcomes as much as possible. In my view we should never lose sight of the fact that the top end of the game is the apex of the footballing pyramid but for it to thrive it needs a healthy base and sound structures.

"This is the very reason that Uefa continues to believe that unity and solidarity remain crucial to the future of our game and central to our own approach within Europe." Current members of the G-14 group are Real Madrid and Barcelona from Spain; Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund of Germany; Internazionale, Milan and Juventus of Italy; England's Liverpool and Manchester United; Marseilles and Paris St-Germain from France; Ajax and PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands; and Porto from Portugal.

The G-14 network has its roots in the creation of the Premiership in England, in which an élite group decided to break away from the Football League in order to retain a larger share of the increased television revenue arising from the game's popularity.

In 1998 the idea was transferred to the European stage by Media Partners – a company owned by the Italian media magnate and now prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi - who recruited Europe's leading 14 clubs to form a powerful, rich and elite voice for change.

The aims of the group, which established an office in Brussels last year, include maximising television revenue and gaining automatic entry into the Champions' League, or other such premier European competitions.

On Tuesday, the G-14 group said that cuts in players' salaries and transfer fees would be at the heart of its proposals for reducing overall costs. The network said it had recently commissioned a study into clubs' expenditure and would announce recommendations at its next meeting in Glasgow on 14 May, the day before this season's European Cup final.

"Football cannot continue allowing costs to spiral out of control. Even fans have trouble keeping up to date with how much costs are rising," Gaspart insisted.

"In all businesses the employees suffer the consequences if the company has financial difficulties. Football must be like that too. We need to look at ways of finding a formula. It won't be easy but there's still time."

"In terms of a player's salary, one solution would see it divided between a fixed payment and a variable amount. The fixed part would be the lesser of the two sums and would be set at a maximum level which would be respected by all clubs".

Milan's deputy-president Adriano Galliani added that clubs were paying "unsustainable" amounts and were worried that costs were outstripping their income which "over recent years has not grown".

"I trust we can find ways to reverse the trend. I believe that salaries and transfer fees should be reduced," Galliani said.

At Tuesday's meeting, the G-14 also pledged to increase revenue from the Champions' League by tapping the potential of pay-per-view broadcasting over the internet, and expressed its reservations over Fifa's plans for a unified international calendar.

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