UEFA postpones Champions League talks as clubs, leagues row

Sports

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin and Ali Turganbekov, from Kazakhstan, right, hand the trophy to Liverpool’s team captain Jordan Henderson after Liverpool won the UEFA Super Cup soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea, in Besiktas Park, in Istanbul, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. Liverpool won 5-4 in a penalty shootout after the game ended tied 2-2. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Changes to the Champions League are unlikely to be decided this year after UEFA on Thursday called off joint talks with the heads of European clubs and leagues who have spent months arguing over a potential radical overhaul of the formats of European competitions.

European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli, who has been criticized for championing a largely closed Champions League, and European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson were due to jointly meet UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin on Sept. 11.

“I have decided to postpone the meeting,” Ceferin wrote to Agnelli and Olsson in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. “I will send a new invitation as soon as I think that we are ready for a meaningful discussion.”

The letter was sent a day before the ECA executive board, led by the Juventus chairman Agnelli, meets in private in Liverpool to discuss their vision for an overhaul of continent-wide club competitions from 2024. The third competition — provisionally called Europa League Two — is already due to launch in 2021.

“We are currently in the process of gathering feedback from our national associations,” Ceferin wrote, “and I feel — more generally — that a new discussion now would be premature as we are analyzing feedback and proposals coming from different parties.”

The European Leagues group has fiercely opposed Agnelli’s core idea of restricting access to the Champions League and Europa League, as have dozens of teams from across the continent who are members of the ECA.

A proposal presented earlier this year by UEFA would guarantee 24 of 32 Champions League group teams return the following season, introducing significant promotion and relegation with the Europa League. Leagues fear end-of-season intrigue will be reduced in their competitions, with finishing positions currently determining qualification for Europe.

“As you know very well, UEFA deliberately kicked off the review process for the 2024/27 competition cycle much ahead of our regular schedule and we are therefore in no hurry,” Ceferin told Agnelli and Olsson. “We do not, in any case, expect to make a decision this year.”

The ECA has been calling for eight-team groups in the Champions League instead of the current four. That would guarantee clubs more revenue from UEFA for playing 14 games before the knockout rounds instead of the current six.

This would benefit the illustrious clubs who want to play each other more often in Europe, appearing to be dissatisfied with a lack of competition at home. Juventus has won eight straight Italian titles, Bayern Munich has won the last seven in Germany, and Paris Saint-Germain has won six of seven in France.

The English Premier League is the leading force resisting dramatic changes to the Champions League and claims to have backing from all of its teams. That includes Manchester United, whose executive vice chairman Ed Woodward is an ECA executive board member.

Atletico Madrid led the attack from Spain — which Barcelona and Real Madrid didn’t sign up to — by accusing the ECA of launching a “frontal attack” on the stability of the European game by advocating a model that harms domestic leagues.

The concept would see eight Champions League teams relegated each season into the following year’s Europa League, with half having to go through a playoff round to reach the second-tier’s group stage.

The four Europa League semifinalists would be promoted into the next season’s Champions League group stage.

Only four qualifying places would be left for national champions competing in preliminary rounds. It would leave the Dutch league runner-up — as Ajax was before reaching last season’s Champions League semifinals — with no way to qualify. Even as Dutch champion, Ajax is having to go through qualifying rounds to make this season’s group stage next month.

Promotion and relegation are also envisaged between the Europa League and a third-tier competition that has yet to launch.

The third competition would kick off in the 2021-22 season with a 32-team format in eight groups of four. But it could be enlarged to 64 teams from 2024, with four groups of 16 teams, possibly arranged by region, according to the UEFA documents seen by the AP in May.

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Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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