LISBON (Reuters) – Plans to reform and possible expand European club competition ran into opposition on Friday as the continent’s leagues declared they were ‘united’ in their determination to protect domestic football.
The European Leagues umbrella group said it would take a more active role in influencing public opinion and shaping the future of football on the continent and reiterated its claim that fans prefer domestic league action to UEFA competition.
Meanwhile, the English Premier League, one of the European Leagues’ 35 members, said its 20 clubs would “vigorously defend” it against any plans to impose a new calendar.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said on being re-elected in February that he would work with the European Club Association (ECA), which groups 232 of the region’s biggest clubs, to “design the club competitions of the future.”
The ECA, in turn, said it wanted more teams playing more matches in continental competitions.
European Leagues, which says it represents 900-plus clubs through its affiliates including “those who are not normally playing European football”, said domestic football should remain the priority.
“Our main objective is to safeguard the domestic competitions and protect the domestic competitions if needed,” its president Lars-Christer Olsson told a news conference.
“These are the most important to the fans, they are much more important than any international competitions.”
Olsson added: “These are interesting times. When it comes to real issues, I am happy to see all leagues are united.”
Although UEFA has only just started discussing its plans, Olsson said it was important that the public knew what was happening.
“We have to make the views of the European Leagues known to everyone, not only stakeholders but also fans and the public so everyone knows what is going on and how we are preparing for the future club competitions,” he said.
Olsson added that the last 10 years had been negative for domestic leagues as revenue from UEFA competition had increased the gap between the richest clubs and the rest.
The Premier League said that in a statement that it had “significant concerns” over reported plans to change the format and qualifying criteria for European tournaments.
“All clubs unanimously agreed it is inappropriate for European football bodies to create plans that would alter the structures, calendar and competitiveness of the domestic game and will work together to protect the Premier League,” it said.
“We have a fantastic combination of competitive football and committed fans that we will vigorously defend,” it continued, adding that allegiances and local rivalries were often passed down through generations.
The Premier League said it would ensure that “European football bodies understand the importance of this, and their obligation to maintain the health and sustainability of domestic league football.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge)