Uefa acts to frustrate breakaway

Click to follow
The Independent Online


Uefa, the governing body of European football, must have a sadistic streak. Yesterday it invited England virtually to double its number of clubs in European competition. With only Nottingham Forest surviving the autumn cull the decision clearly was not based on merit.

It was, of course, based on greed and fear, like most political and financial decisions in modern football. England's enhanced European entry (Scotland's will also increase) follows Uefa's peace-keeping meeting with the continent's elite clubs in Geneva yesterday.

The greed came from the clubs, the fear from Uefa. The clubs were seeking more opportunities to indulge in lucrative European competition. Uefa was anxious to retain control of the European game. With the clubs talking about a European super league, run by themselves, Uefa has offered leading clubs more places in Europe.

The most notable change would be in the Champions' League - it will no longer be restricted to champions. It is proposed that the competition is increased from 24 teams to 32 with the extra eight being clubs drawn from countries granted an extra place under "a special formula".

Since it is more than 10 years since an English club won the European Cup, or even reached the quarter-finals, it would seem that the Premiership was a borderline case - indeed Rangers' record is better. However, as Blackburn discovered to their benefit this year, Uefa formulas are carefully calculated to ensure the chosen come from those countries with the wealthiest television companies. Thus England, like Germany, Italy, Spain and France, are certain to be included.

Coming second in the Premiership would not necessarily earn a team a place in the new competition. The idea is to include clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool, not teams like Watford or Southampton, both of whom came second in the Eighties. Thus the non-champion qualifiers would be selected on the basis of performances in Europe, and at home, over a number of years.

The 32 clubs would play a two-leg knock-out to determine the 16 to compete in the league stage. The 16 losers would get a second chance with a place in the expanded Uefa Cup. That competition would also include at least two more English and one Scottish club. It would start in July - a move which would hasten a winter break in England and Scotland.

Under the proposals, clubs with good records in the domestic competitions are likely to be included. If English clubs return to the Intertoto Cup, this could mean more than a dozen Premiership clubs competing in Europe by the 1997-98 season.

Lennart Johansson, the Uefa president, said there had been little support for the idea of a European league, but David Dein, the Arsenal vice-chairman who had proposed the idea, said it had been enthusiastically received. "It was only ever meant to be thought provoking," he said. "I think a European league system will evolve in due course."

Rick Parry , chief executive of the Premier League, described the meeting as "positive", adding: "We're talking about evolution rather than revolution here and that's a good thing."

Having spent the morning ensuring their future wealth Uefa and the clubs (35 from 12 countries whose FAs were also represented) spent the afternoon dealing with a more intractable problem - Bosman.

Their discussions were given an edge when the European Union announced in the morning it was looking at whether the Bosman ruling also applied to a series of countries from Eastern Europe and North Africa, and Turkey.

The EU has labour agreements with these countries which means the Bosman ruling, which is based on free movement of labour within the EU, could also apply to them. This could mean players from countries like Romania may not need a work permit. The news would please West Ham, who are having problems acquiring one for Ilie Dumitrescu, but not the players' union, which is already concerned about the spread of cheap imports.