MADRID – A “vast majority” of European teams are against plans by elite clubs to radically change the shape of the UEFA Champions League, according to the organization representing national leagues.
The European Leagues group hosted a meeting Tuesday of around 250 clubs in the Spanish capital and said most are against proposals submitted by the European Club Association that kicked off consultation to agree changes that will take effect in 2024.
The ECA’s strategy is mostly shaped by rich and storied clubs who want to play each other more often – possibly in groups doubled in size to eight teams – and secure year-on-year Champions League entry through a high placing in those groups.
That proposal would represent the biggest change to the Champions League since some domestic league runners-up were allowed entry in 1997.
The clubs’ idea is fiercely opposed by the leagues, which fear fans and broadcasters could lose interest in their competitions if Champions League entries can be secured elsewhere.
“A lot of clubs made their position very clear, including clubs and representatives from ECA,” European Leagues President Lars-Christer Olsson said. “The domestic competitions have to be the basis for the international competitions.”
“We are sure that fans are supporting our ideas,” said Olsson, who helped oversee the modern Champions League as former CEO of UEFA for several years until 2007.
The leagues want to make sure more domestic winners can have direct access to the Champions League from 2024 instead of having to go through more qualifying rounds with fewer chances to reach the lucrative group stage.
Until 2018, the Champions League preliminary rounds including teams from all 55 UEFA member countries offered 10 of the 32 Champions League group-stage places, which shared up to $2 billion in prize money.
Changes that took effect this season favored wealthy countries. Teams from Spain, England, Germany, Italy now avoid the preliminaries and only six of the 32 places are on offer to qualifiers. One of those qualifiers, Ajax, is in the semifinals.
Ajax advanced through the knockout rounds with victories over Real Madrid and Juventus – two clubs pushing hardest for a better deal for elite clubs.
Juventus president Andrea Agnelli – who leads the ECA and sits with Olsson on the UEFA executive committee – attended Tuesday’s meeting which he had asked his members to boycott. ECA members will meet June 6-7 in Malta to discuss the proposal made in their name.
Agnelli wrote to ECA officials last month criticizing the European Leagues for trying to preserve the “status quo.” He has also suggested more promotion and relegation between the Champions League and second-tier Europa League which has been dominated for the past decade by Spanish and English clubs.
“We are not against change,” Olsson said Tuesday, “but we have significant concerns if that change should be based on what is released by Agnelli in his letter to the clubs.”
ECA vice chairman Edwin van der Sar, representing Ajax, told reporters that rumors about promoting a closed league or playing weekend games in European competitions were not the clubs’ goal.
“To develop European football, it’s important to play more interesting and meaningful games and sometimes that doesn’t happen in the leagues,” said Van der Sar, suggesting the Dutch Eredivisie did not help Ajax players develop fully.
“All things evolve and European football needs to evolve also,” the former Ajax, Juventus and Manchester United goalkeeper said, citing a third-tier UEFA competition that kicks off in 2021. That project is provisionally called Europa League 2.
The ECA already met with UEFA leadership to discuss the changes, and Olsson will lead a leagues delegation to UEFA’s offices in Switzerland on Wednesday.
The meeting in Madrid was organized by Spanish league president Javier Tebas, a longtime critic of the proposed changes.
“The entire football industry would be affected by these changes,” said Tebas, saying the league would consider legal actions if the clubs’ favored formats went into effect. “It would be a very complicated scenario.”
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