UEFA, Europe’s top clubs dismiss threat of new competitions

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin. (Ronald Zak/AP)

BRUSSELS — The leaders of UEFA and the group representing Europe’s top clubs have dismissed the threat of privately run new competitions, showing unity against a FIFA-led project.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin and European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli teamed up for a news conference in Brussels after weeks of speculation about a breakaway European Super League and months of FIFA promoting a multibillion dollar Club World Cup revamp.

Both competition proposals were suggested to start in 2021, though Agnelli has repeatedly said 2024 is the first year major changes to formats and global fixture calendars should take effect.

Ceferin said a Super League — recently drafted by consultants for Real Madrid — threatening the Champions League was "out of the question."

The UEFA president compared a breakaway to FIFA’s Club World Cup project, often speculated to be backed by Saudi Arabian money, and said both had been driven by secretive talks.

"This kind of competition is the road to a Super League," said Ceferin, who has led European opposition to the Club World Cup plan at FIFA Council meetings this year.

"Do you see any difference between a private super league and a competition that is completely secret, that is 49 per cent sold to a private fund … that is started by secret talks only with a few big clubs?" he asked.

FIFA has created a working group to analyze Club World Cup options, with a decision scheduled in March at a council meeting in Miami.

Ceferin and Agnelli spoke after meeting with the European Union’s sports commissioner to restate support for soccer allowing all teams to progress through promotion and relegation in national leagues, and potentially qualify for UEFA competitions.

They said the Brussels meeting was arranged before European media began publishing the "Football Leaks" series this month using confidential documents and emails from clubs and soccer bodies. Those documents included Real Madrid’s Super League proposal.

Agnelli, the president of Italian champion Juventus, said clubs had not formally discussed a breakaway plan since 2015.

"I have nothing to be ashamed about of what happened in the past," he said, adding that neither Juventus nor the Switzerland-based ECA appeared to have had data systems hacked.

Agnelli said the 232-member ECA is preparing to extend its working agreement with UEFA beyond 2022.

Ahead of 2024, European clubs will have a big say in potential changes agreed on with UEFA and FIFA.

Agnelli reiterated that a key issue will be agreeing on the so-called "International Match Calendar" which determines when international competitions for national and club teams will be played. It could lead to 20-team leagues in England and Spain being cut in size to harmonize fixture schedules in different countries.

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