Sunday 11 December 2016

European football leagues protest against Champions League reforms

Published 08/09/2016 | 11:26

Europe's top four leagues have each been given four automatic Champions League places
Europe's top four leagues have each been given four automatic Champions League places

The umbrella organisation that represents European football's professional leagues has angrily rejected UEFA's reforms of the Champions League and Europa League that were announced last month.

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In a move that will pitch European football's 'haves' against its 'have nots', European Professional Football Leagues' board of directors has accused UEFA of breaching the terms of the deal that governs European club competitions.

This follows UEFA's move to give four guaranteed Champions League group-stage places to the top four leagues - the Bundesliga, La Liga, the Premier League and Serie A - and redistribute the prize money to better reward historic success in European football.

The EPFL, which is meeting at Ajax's De Toekomst headquarters in Amsterdam, says these reforms were made "without the support and consensus" from the domestic leagues.

" This decision will have a detrimental impact on domestic competitions and will lead to an exponential growth in the financial and sporting gap between the biggest clubs in Europe and all the others," a statement from the EPFL board of directors said.

"As a result of the decision taken by UEFA, the EPFL believes that UEFA has breached the Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations.

"In the event that the EPFL were to terminate the MoU as a result of such breach, this would give all European leagues total freedom to schedule their matches as they see fit, including on the same days and at the same kick-off times as UEFA club competitions."

Under current rules, no domestic games can be played in the same time slots as Champions League or Europa League games, which has meant British broadcasters have had to move cup replays or rearranged league fixtures to unusual times to avoid clashing with European games, even when there has been no domestic interest.

The EPFL threat to rip up this agreement comes a week before UEFA gathers in Athens to elect a new president. European football's governing body has been in limbo since current incumbent Michel Platini was banned from all football activities for corruption last year.

The statement from EPFL's board calls on the new president, who will be either Slovenia's Aleksander Ceferin or Dutchman Michael van Praag, to reconsider the reforms and says the leagues are ready to meet him for urgent talks.

Ceferin, the frontrunner, is perceived to be more attuned to the concerns of smaller nations and has a reputation as a consensus-builder, whereas van Praag is thought to be closer to Europe's more powerful clubs, although it is interesting that the EPFL gathering is at Ajax, where he served as chairman between 1989 and 2003.

But the real rift here is between the clubs themselves, with UEFA's reforms being a response to demands from the European Club Association, the organisation that arose from the ashes of the G-14 group of elite clubs.

On Monday, ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who is also Bayern Munich chairman, welcomed UEFA's changes, calling them a "good compromise" and saying they should end any talk of a breakaway super league - the threat the big clubs always fall back on when negotiating with UEFA for a bigger slice of the financial pie.

And that pie is growing, as UEFA's revenues from the Champions League and Europa League are set to rise from £2bn a year now to £2.5bn a year from 2018, which is when a new MoU will need to be decided with the leagues.

The EPFL, which represents the interests of all clubs in 32 leagues across Europe, including the English Football League and Scottish Professional Football League, is annoyed that 16 of the 32 Champions League group-stage places are now reserved for the elite teams from the richest leagues - a significant increase on the current 11 slots the top four leagues get, with three more teams having to come through a qualifying round.

The changes to how the prize money is distributed will also favour the bigger teams as the formula will give points for historic success in European competitions.

UEFA had hoped that its promise to increase the total prize funds, and reduce the amount guaranteed to larger TV markets like England's, would appease concerns about favouring the traditional powers, but it seems those hopes were misplaced.

Responding to the EPFL statement, UEFA's acting general secretary Theodore Theodoridis said: " The evolution of UEFA's club competitions is the result of a wide-ranging consultative process involving all European football's stakeholders, including the European Professional Leagues, and taking into account a wide range of expertise and perspectives.

"The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe's elite club competitions.

"We are happy that the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance remain at the core of European football."

Press Association

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