A plan to radically restructure European club football in 2024 looks dead and buried after the Premier League and seven leading Spanish sides reiterated their opposition to the proposal.
Championed by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, the idea is to replace UEFA’s current club competitions with a three-tier structure that incorporates promotion and relegation – a move that would limit the number of Champions League slots available to new entrants via domestic competition.
This would also involve increasing the number of games that Champions League teams play against each other by moving to four groups of eight, something many domestic leagues believe can only be achieved by playing European games at weekends.
Agnelli is also the chairman of the European Club Association, the organisation that represents Europe’s richest clubs, and his plan is a joint effort between the ECA and UEFA, although both have stressed it is just the starting point for what they have described as a consultation on the post-2024 landscape.
That has not convinced any of Europe’s top domestic leagues, though, and they have been lining up to attack the plan ever since it was first leaked in March.
The Premier League has now issued two statements making its opposition clear, with the most recent coming from its annual general meeting in Harrogate on Wednesday.
“The Premier League and our clubs today unanimously reaffirmed our strong opposition to the proposed reform of UEFA club competitions from 2024, which would alter the structure, calendar and competitiveness of league football,” it said.
“We believe the proposals – particularly the suggested format and qualification criteria – would be detrimental to domestic leagues across the continent.
“There was unanimous agreement that the domestic game should continue to be the priority for professional clubs, and any changes to the football calendar must respect the requirements of domestic competitions.
“Critically, qualification for the Champions League and the Europa League must continue to depend on current domestic performance.”
It concluded by saying the clubs have asked the league to work with UEFA, fans and other stakeholders to find “constructive proposals which improve European club competitions without harming domestic football”.
The ECA, which is meeting in Malta on Thursday and Friday, has received a very similar message from seven Spanish clubs, led by La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.
Press Association Sport understands that they have described the plan as “a frontal attack” on domestic football and the “biggest threat in the history of European football”.
It is perhaps telling, however, that Barcelona and Real Madrid are not among the signatories.
The row has also taken a political dimension this week, with French premier Emmanuel Macron telling FIFA president Gianni Infantino he was “concerned” by the plans
But this provoked a quick response from UEFA, with its president Aleksander Ceferin telling reporters at Wednesday’s FIFA Congress that he was “disappointed” with what he considered “political interference” in football.
This followed French FA boss Noel Le Graet’s welcoming speech in Paris that effectively apologised for Macron’s comment, saying these matters were best kept within the football family.
An ECA spokesperson said: “ECA members are meeting in Malta this week to begin an internal consultation on the future of UEFA Club Competitions post-2024.
“We believe that despite the success of the current UEFA Club Competitions, reform should be considered to address some of the needs and imbalances that have emerged across European club football.
“The ECA, which represents 232 clubs across Europe, has a responsibility to establish a fairer system which allows all clubs who are good enough to develop and play regularly in European competitions to have a fair a chance to do so.
“We welcome all constructive discussion as we continue this process.
Fans groups have come out against the proposals, with Football Supporters’ Federation chief executive Kevin Miles saying: “These proposals are totally counter to the principles of sporting achievement, and the knock-on effects would be disastrous throughout the game.
“The plans could force lower league clubs to the edge of the abyss, destroy domestic cup competitions, and pull up the drawbridge on teams with no European pedigree.
“It doesn’t matter how big or small your club is – these proposals would be massively damaging throughout the football pyramid. We’ll do everything in our powers to oppose them.”
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