Europe’s clubs divided over Champions League reform

Lausanne (AFP) – The battle over the future of the Champions League will resume on Monday and Tuesday when the European Club Association (ECA) meets in Geneva and the leadership faces rebellion from members.

ECA, led by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, is closely involved in proposals to reshape Europe’s main club competition from 2024.

The proposals were presented by European football’s governing body UEFA in May although details had leaked earlier. 

The reforms include the introduction of weekend fixtures, four groups of eight, and a tiered system with relegation and promotion that would see the top six teams in each group automatically qualify for the following year’s competition.

ECA, which boasts of “more than 230 members”, faced an outcry from many of those clubs and from national leagues which would be hit hard by the scheme.

“A semi-closed league with more matches… threatens to enormously impoverish the Spanish league,” said Javier Tebas of La Liga.

England’s Premier League issued a statement saying: “The domestic game should continue to be the priority for professional clubs.”

Opponents say the plan is designed to guarantee the income of a handful of big clubs.

“This reform would especially harm medium and small clubs,” said Wanja Greuel, the president of Young Boys of Berne, the reigning Swiss champions.

“It eliminates the access to the top flight of European competitions through domestic leagues. Fans will gradually lose interest in domestic leagues and those leagues would be further economically damaged.”

Last month UEFA announced it was cancelling a meeting with the ECA and the European Leagues, a wider body representing more than 900 European clubs, scheduled for September 11.

– ‘It will kill the dream’ –

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said he wanted to “collect feedback” from member federations. 

The cancellation of the meeting “reveals strong opposition,” said Bernard Caiazzo, president of French Ligue 1 club Saint Etienne, who are outspoken opponents of the plan.

“When you close the supreme competition to 90 percent of clubs, you kill the dream for a middle-sized club reaching it,” said Caiazzo. 

He gives the example of Lille, who dramatically improved last season, finished as French league runners up, but who from 2024 “could no longer experience this fairytale of moving from 17th place in Ligue 1 to the Champions League in the space of 14 months”.

On Friday, both UEFA and the ECA struck a cautious note.

“We need to take into consideration the clubs’ feedback,” ECA secretary general Michele Centenaro said. “Domestic football (leagues) must be protected and, at the same time, we must try to better reward European cup performances.”

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