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More European clubs oppose plan to overhaul Champions League

June 7, 2019
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Torino's Daniele Baselli and Lazio's Ciro Immobile, right, go for the ball during the Serie A soccer match between Torino and Lazio at Olympic stadium in Turin, Italy, Sunday, May 26, 2019. (Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)

PARIS (AP) — Teams from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland have added their voices to concerns about plans to transform the Champions League.

As more than 150 European Club Association members met Friday in Malta, The Associated Press obtained statements from executives at Schalke, Lazio, Saint-Etienne, Monaco, Bordeaux, Braga, Basel and Young Boys expressing opposition to the Champions League becoming a largely closed competition.

The expressions of dissent follow the Premier League announcing that England’s 20 clubs all opposed the club-driven concept presented by UEFA in recent talks with the European Leagues group and national federations .

There is also a split in Spain , where seven of the country’s nine ECA members are part of the resistance. Barcelona and Real Madrid appear to remain behind the organization. Both clubs have seats on the board.

The ECA, which is led by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, has pushed for 24 out of 32 group teams starting in 2024 to return the following season. It could remove much of the intrigue in domestic leagues, where there is a chase for European qualification places.

The concept circulating since March also calls for eight-team groups instead of four, guaranteeing clubs 14 games before the knockout rounds instead of the current six.

One option to find space in a congested calendar for more Champions League games is cutting 20-team national leagues — such as the Premier League, the Spanish league and Serie A — to as few as 16 teams. Smaller leagues risk having less commercial value.

From Germany, Schalke chief executive Peter Peters said “we need now to start with a blank page” by abandoning the current concept.

“We need to guarantee the long-term sporting as well economic sustainability of both the national championships and the European competitions,” Lazio president Claudio Lotito said.

Agnelli said at a news conference in Malta that “it is not an easy task” to reach agreement. The UEFA-led consultation would likely reach decisions no earlier than a December meeting of its executive committee.

“If 70 to 80% of the constituency will be satisfied with the result, it’s going to be a very good result,” Agnelli said, calling on his members to “engage positively with intellectual honesty” shaping European soccer.

The new plan would promote and relegate teams between the Champions League with the Europa League, which would have similar locked-in places and movement with a new third-tier competition starting in 2021.

Beyond the Champions League, the proposal also would increase the number of group teams from the current combined total of 80 in two club competitions up to 128 in the three UEFA events by 2024.

ECA members outside an elite group of storied clubs want the third-tier event to keep them involved beyond the early-season qualifying rounds.

“What we have now is not working for the vast majority of countries,” said ECA vice chairman Aki Riihilahti, the chief executive of Finnish champion HJK Helsinki.

Still, it is Champions League changes that will largely decide if the project is a success.

“The meeting in Malta was a step forward for the efforts to block the reform,” Saint-Etienne president Bernard Caiazzo said. “ECA guaranteed that no reform will negatively impact the value of domestic championships both economically and in terms of sporting merit.”

Monaco deputy chief executive Nicolas Holveck complained that the meeting in Malta did not discuss prize money to ensure a “fairer distribution model among participating and non-participating clubs so to guarantee the proper competitive balance both in Europe and at league level.”

The recently finished Champions League season will share more than $2 billion in prize money among 32 clubs.

Wanja Greuel, chief executive of Swiss champion Young Boys, called for a model that “could benefit ALL clubs in Europe and not solely the elite European clubs.”

Responding to criticism that the 232-member ECA is not democratic enough, it agreed Friday to expand its board from 15 to 24 members.

After a heated few weeks of debate, there could be calm ahead of a meeting at UEFA on Sept. 11.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has called his executive committee, including Agnelli, to meet with the ECA and European Leagues boards to push the project forward.

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AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

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