UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told leaders from European leagues not to forget the importance of big clubs in generating cash during a private meeting in which plans were detailed for a closed-off Champions League favoring the elite.
A recording and images obtained by the Associated Press from the meeting at the UEFA headquarters on Wednesday highlights the schism between clubs and leagues over the ability to influence UEFA as it considers revamping its club competitions starting with the 2024-2025 season.
The dramatic proposal, shown during the meeting in Nyon, France, would lock in 24 of the 32 slots in the Champions League without the need to qualify annually through domestic leagues, and would introduce promotion from and relegation to the Europa League.
The plan has infuriated domestic leagues, particularly La Liga president Javier Tebas, who views UEFA as too closely aligned to the vision of European Club Association (ECA) head Andrea Agnelli of Juventus.
In a letter obtained by reporters last month, European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson floated the possibility of an investigation to determine whether the ECA was abusing a dominant position as UEFA was lobbied for more games between leading clubs.
“Speaking about big clubs, this is a typical populist tool that is used in Europe, not only in football,” Ceferin told European Leagues representatives in the closed-door meeting. “More and more the rich are taking everything from you and we the rich will help. Is that logical? I don’t think so.”
Hitting out at claims he is “killing football,” Ceferin rebuked members of the European Leagues organization over public criticism and warned that his executive committee could have pushed ahead with a revamp of competitions without discussing it with them.
“We will not insult, but the more shouting there will be, the less consultation process there will be,” Ceferin said.
The early UEFA vision, if approved, would see the Champions League group stage start a month earlier in August and double the size of each group to eight teams.
However, 24 of the 32 clubs in the 2024-2025 group stage could retain their places the following season, regardless of their domestic league finish. That would give certainty to leading clubs that attract the biggest TV audiences, but reduced opportunities for outsiders.
Four Champions League teams would be relegated each season into the next season’s second-tier Europa League. They would be replaced by the Europa League semi-finalists, who would be promoted.
Only four qualifying places would be left for national champions competing in preliminary rounds. It would leave the Dutch league runners-up — as Ajax were before reaching the Champions League semi-finals this season — with no ability to qualify.
Promotion and relegation is also envisaged between the Europa League and a third-tier competition that has yet to launch.
“You have to know that the ones who are shouting generate huge revenues and don’t share anything with the others in Europe,” Ceferin said. “The ones who really have problems respectfully and humbly wait for our explanation, and that’s why we want to discuss — we want to discuss because of the ones who deserve.”
In 2016, Ceferin decried a secret deal over Champions League changes agreed just before he was elected to succeed Michel Platini as UEFA president.
Ceferin was frustrated that UEFA caved into the demands of Spain, Germany, England and Italy to guarantee them 16 of the 32 Champions League group-stage places.
Now Ceferin is giving the impression he is consulting more by bringing leagues and clubs to meetings in Nyon, but his unhappiness with officials from leagues was clear in the tone.
Ceferin called on European Leagues officials to approach the talks “with some class, without hostility and without false solidarity,” and challenged them to come forward with proposals.
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