Clubs need more European games to grow, says Van der Sar

Madrid (AFP) –


Ajax chief executive Edwin van der Sar has defended controversial plans to reform European competitions by claiming the stability of clubs depends on them playing more matches in Europe.

The former Ajax, Juventus and Manchester United goalkeeper is now vice-chairman of the European Club Association (ECA), the body founded by Europe's most successful clubs and whose president, Andrea Agnelli has proposed a new tournament that would greatly reduce qualification from domestic leagues.

Instead, clubs would be promoted and relegated within a "pan-European league system".

"What we are fighting for and working towards is to get more access for more countries and more clubs to develop in European football," Van der Sar said.

"It's important to play more interesting and meaningful games. Sometimes that doesn't happen in the (national) league."

Van der Sar was speaking in Madrid on Tuesday after a meeting of the European Leagues, an organisation opposed to the reforms if they undermine domestic competition.

The event brought together 244 clubs from 38 countries, with the aim of establishing common ground ahead of a meeting on Wednesday between the European Leagues and UEFA's executive committee in Nyon, Switzerland.

Van der Sar denied the ECA's plans could create a de facto 'super-league', ring-fenced around certain clubs, or that European matches at weekends was part of the proposal.

"There has been a lot of talk about a closed system, about weekend games and non-participation for certain clubs that is not true," Van der Sar said. "That is not part of the plans."

But Van der Sar believes clubs need the continuity of European competition, pointing to how Ajax reached the Europa League final in 2017 but were then not involved the following season, after they lost in the qualifying rounds of both the Champions League and Europa League.

- 'What is fair?' -

"How can a club develop at its level?" Van der Sar said. "It can grow in its country but also in a European competition.

"Take my club, two years ago we played a European (Europa League) final against Man United and we lost. Two months after we were out of European competition completely.

"It's difficult to balance the books. Fortunately, we are a healthy club but a certain level of stability is important for clubs to develop over a longer period of time."

Asked whether the reforms would serve only to preserve the status of Europe's richest clubs, Van der Sar said: "I don't know what you mean by rich because at Ajax we get 8.5 million euros in TV revenue so what is fair?

"Our league postponed a league fixture for us and Tottenham said it's not fair, but they get 180 million euros in TV revenue so what is fair? Different countries have different possibilities.

"We need a solution for European football. You need to help smaller clubs in European competitions get the right distribution of money so they can invest in coaches and attract talent for the level they can play at.

"You have to develop your club and try to find a way to move upwards in the pyramid of European football. All things evolve and European football needs to evolve as well."

European Leagues chairman Lars-Christer Olsson demanded on Tuesday that UEFA include them in any discussions around changes while La Liga president Javier Tebas said: "It is not possible to make reforms without the agreement of the leagues."

Van der Sar said there would be room for negotiation.

"The process is open but there must be some guidelines," added Van der Sar. "You can't have 60 different voices talking about one competition. You can't please everybody."