Europe's clubs, leagues set for Champions League revamp debate

Madrid (AFP) –


With radical changes proposed to the Champions League, creating the possibility of a competition largely reserved for Europe's elite, domestic leagues and at least 150 clubs will gather for talks Tuesday in Madrid, ahead of a crucial meeting with UEFA 24 hours later.

European Leagues, the association of the continent's professional leagues, has invited some 900 clubs to the Spanish capital to discuss the future of European competitions and the threats posed by mooted reforms.

On Wednesday, UEFA's executive committee, chaired by president Aleksander Ceferin, will meet with Europe's football leagues to hold talks over the controversial revamp plans that could take effect from 2024.

Tuesday's assembly should provide an opportunity for representatives from lesser leagues and smaller clubs to find common ground in their fight to stop UEFA instituting sweeping changes.

One of the topics of discussion in Madrid is titled "A de facto closed league for elite clubs", a feared outcome, according to reports, should the European Club Association, and its president Andrea Agnelli, succeed in overhauling the current Champions League format.

A new-look competition would reportedly feature four groups of eight teams in the pool phase, with the top six in each group qualifying for the following edition regardless of where they finish in their domestic competition.

- Outcry -

The rumours triggered an outcry from smaller clubs, as well as from the organisers of domestic leagues fearing their competitions would be devalued, particularly if matches were to be scheduled at the weekend.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, whose club has been crowned European champions a record 13 times, also criticised the project.

"For those smaller clubs it's certainly much more difficult to be able to play in the Champions League," said Zidane.

"To experience that, for those who don't play in it regularly, or who play in it once in a lifetime, it's magnificent."

Barcelona have offered broad support for a reform but are against the idea of staging games at the weekend.

In Germany, Bayern Munich chief Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Borussia Dortmund counterpart Hans-Joachim Watzke confessed they weren't pleased by the changes but were ready to "compromise" given the seeming inevitability of it.

Bundesliga chief Christian Seifert came out strongly opposed to the plans, blasting the idea of playing European games at the weekend as a "red line" which must not be crossed, and threatening legal action.

But Juventus chairman Agnelli last month referred to "incorrect speculation and rumour" in the media and said "no concrete proposals" for change had been agreed in a letter addressed to the ECA's 232 member clubs.

The ECA will hold a special general assembly in June to discuss the controversial proposals in Malta, with the organisation's president Agnelli urging members not to attend the Madrid talks.

That drew a strong rebuke from European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson, who said they are "grown up enough to make their own judgments without getting 'orders' from the ECA president."

And while the majority of Italian clubs will be in Madrid, the likes of Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Roma will skip the meeting, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.