Monday 27 March 2017

Atlantic League opens new horizons for Irish clubs

Informal discussions about a North Atlantic League have also been held, with a proposed start in 2021 (Stock photo)
Informal discussions about a North Atlantic League have also been held, with a proposed start in 2021 (Stock photo)

John Fallon

The possibility of an Atlantic League involving clubs from Scotland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Holland is back on the agenda - and a team from Ireland could also be inivted to compete.

Such a venture was first mooted in the 1990s but enthusiasm waned in the face of UEFA's policy of maintaining the primacy of national associations.

Back in 1990, a failed attempt was mounted to enter a new club - Dublin City - into the Scottish Second Division with a view to winning promotion to the old First Division.

UEFA felt that the creation of trans-national leagues would threaten the authority of national associations, but that stance has been weakened significantly by veiled threats by superclubs to institute a breakaway European League.

The immediate danger of such a schism has been averted by the agreement to permit four teams each from England, Germany, Italy and Spain to have automatic access to the Champions League group stages.

However, there have been parallel talks among smaller European countries about the formation of regional groupings and the ascent of Dundalk to the Champions League play-off stage and the group stages of the Europa League has made their participation a real possibility.

Their appeal may depend on sustained progress on the European front next season to dispel any fears of this year's exploits being a one-off.

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The Irish Independent understands that a Balkan League - comprising the former Yugoslavian countries, possibly with Albania and Greece also involved - is the most advanced of the proposals under discussion.

Informal discussions about a North Atlantic League have also been held, with a proposed start in 2021 to coincide with the end of the current Champions League broadcasting cycle.

A North Atlantic set-up, including the likes of Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Anderlecht, Club Brugge, FC Copenhagen and Malmo, is more likely to confine Scottish participation to the Old Firm plus one other team - probably Aberdeen.

Rangers have been more preoccupied with the immediate task of restoring themselves as a force in the Scottish Premiership after four seasons in the lower divisions following the financial meltdown which occurred at Ibrox in 2012.

Celtic, though, have investigated alternative futures in detail and their belief is that the Old Firm - and also Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibernian - would add much greater value to a revamped English League than the addition of Conference clubs or franchises.

Celtic are understood to favour a pyramid system open to other SPFL clubs, solidarity payments, their continued participation in the Scottish Cup and the possibility of maintaining colts or 'B' team in the Scottish League.

Irish Independent

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