Michel Platini, the Uefa president and most powerful man in European football, has launched an extraordinary attack on British football, accusing heavily indebted Chelsea and Manchester United of being "cheats" who win tournaments on the back of their debt.
Speaking on the eve of the Euro 2008 tournament, Platini said that England's absence from it is in no way detrimental to the competition and a product of the direction the Premier League has taken
That league more than any other domestic division, he said, has succumbed to a win-at-all-costs mentality in which success is imperative "not to win titles, but to pay back debts". This, Platini told L'Equipe, must now be dealt with.
He singled out Chelsea and United – collective debt £1.5bn – for criticism. "It is a never-ending search for money, leading to the proposal of a 39th fixture abroad," Platini said. "Look at Chelsea and Manchester United's debt. Fifa and Uefa have to do something to combat that, because today the ones who cheat are going on to win. Is Champions League success built around who has the most money? I think so. It is run on credit now and it annoys me. We have to find ways to help other clubs sort out their problems. Defeat must no longer mean financial disaster. We have to find the means, together with the European Club Association, to help clubs sort out their financial problems."
Platini was asked if England would be missed. "What does England's absence mean to me? Nothing," he said. "They had only to qualify on the pitch. I do not wish to say that we miss England. That would mean, moreover, that the Croats are worthless. If England are not capable of finishing in the first two teams from a group of six, that is their problem.
"Their clubs have done well in the Champions League, but club football has nothing to do with the international game."
Platini's attack infuriated those present at a meeting of the 20 Premier League club chairmen and chief executives in Leicestershire, according to reports. They delivered a "no comment" response but Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea chief executive, and David Gill, his counterpart at United, are said to be furious.
The clubs' foreign owners may feel the same. Platini said of them: "I am very concerned by clubs being bought by foreigners. I don't see why Americans come to invest in these clubs, if not to turn them into products. It's a never-ending gold rush."
* The Football Association chairman, Lord Triesman, wants to turn the FA Cup into a breeding ground for English talent. To allay concerns that the flow of English youngsters is drying up due to an influx of foreign players, Triesman is ready to begin drawing up plans to increase the number of Britons involved in the FA's flagship tournament.