Ceferin stresses big clubs with closed Champions League idea

AP , Friday 10 May 2019

Aleksander Ceferin
In this Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 file photo, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin listens to reporter's questions during a press conference at the end of the 43rd UEFA congress in Rome (File photo: AP)

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told leaders from European leagues not to forget the importance of big clubs in generating cash during a private meeting in which plans were detailed for a closed-off Champions League favoring the elite.

A recording and images obtained by The Associated Press from the meeting at the UEFA headquarters on Wednesday highlights the schism between clubs and leagues over the ability to influence UEFA as it considers revamping its club competitions starting with the 2024-25 season.

The dramatic proposal, shown during the meeting in Nyon, would lock in 24 of the 32 slots in the Champions League without the need to qualify annually through domestic leagues and would introduce promotion from and relegation to the Europa League.

The plan has infuriated domestic leagues, particularly La Liga President Javier Tebas, who views UEFA as too closely aligned to the vision of European Club Association head Andrea Agnelli of Juventus. In a letter obtained by the AP last month, European Leagues President Lars-Christer Olsson floated the possibility of an investigation to determine whether the ECA was abusing a dominant position as UEFA was lobbied for more games between leading clubs.

''Speaking about big clubs, this is a typical populist tool that is used in Europe not only in football,'' Ceferin told European Leagues representatives in the closed-doors meeting. ''More and more the rich are taking everything from you and we the rich will help. Is that logical? I don't think so. And it's true big clubs are taking a lot of money, the most the biggest amount of money because of their results. And it's true that we have to think about that. But they're also bringing a lot of money on the table which is very easily forgotten.''

Hitting out at claims he is ''killing football,'' Ceferin rebuked members of the European Leagues organization over public criticism and warned his executive committee could have pushed ahead with a revamp of competitions without discussing it with them.

''We will not insult, but the more shouting there will be, the less consultation process there will be,'' Ceferin said.

''Shouting in the media tells us much more about those people than about UEFA,'' Ceferin added. ''We were listening about what will happen here, about how we are killing football, destroying football - despite the fact that UEFA is the only organization in European football that shares money as solidarity to every single country in Europe.''

The early UEFA vision, if approved, would see the Champions League group stage start a month earlier in August and double the size of each group to eight teams.

But 24 of the 32 clubs in the 2024-25 group stage could retain their places the following season regardless of their domestic league finish. That would give certainty to leading clubs that attract the biggest television audiences but reduced opportunities for outsiders.

Four Champions League teams will be relegated each season into the next season's second-tier Europa League. They would be replaced by the Europa League semifinalists, who would be promoted.

Only four qualifying places would be left for national champions competing in preliminary rounds. It would leave the Dutch league runner-up - as Ajax was before reaching the Champions League semifinals this season - with no ability to qualify.

Promotion and relegation is also envisaged between the Europa League and a third-tier competition that has yet to launch.

The third competition, first revealed by the AP in 2015, would kick off in the 2021-22 season with a 32-team format in eight groups of four. But it could be enlarged to 64 teams from 2024, with four groups of 16 teams, possibly arranged by region, according to the UEFA documents.

''You have to know that the ones who are shouting generate huge revenues and don't share anything with the others in Europe,'' Ceferin said. ''The ones who really have problems respectfully and humbly wait for our explanation. And that's why we want to discuss we want to discuss because of the ones who deserve. That we discuss the ones who need our help and not the ones who are scared about their personal interest.''

In 2016, Ceferin decried a secret deal over Champions League changes agreed just before he was elected to succeed Michel Platini as UEFA president. Ceferin was frustrated UEFA caved into demands of Spain, Germany, England and Italy to guarantee them 16 of the 32 Champions League group-stage places.

Now Ceferin is giving the impression he is consulting more by bringing leagues and clubs to meetings in Nyon. But his unhappiness with officials from leagues was clear in the tone.

''We can go to the ExCo and decide and not ask anyone and your representative in the ExCo go can vote against,'' Ceferin said, referring to Olsson, who sits on the executive committee. ''But we don't want to do it. That's why we are discussing. Legal action threats, I will not comment that much. As a lawyer with 25 year experience, this is quite the joke.''

Ceferin called on European Leagues officials to approach the talks ''with some class without hostility and without false solidarity'' and challenged them to come forward with proposals.

''I hope we will exchange many important ideas and arguments,'' Ceferin said. ''And if we do that we will come at the end to a solution that will be good for all the European football and - trust me or don't trust me - but the fact is that for UEFA that's our goal. We cannot do what clubs say and we cannot do what league say. We will do what is right for European football. And we will protect it together.''

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