By Brian Homewood
BERN (Reuters) – Swiss clubs have been responsible for some memorable giant-killing performances in the Champions League, epitomising the romance of football, but the Swiss league’s chief executive fears they may be shut out under new UEFA proposals.
Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Liverpool have all lost at FC Basel, Young Boys this season contrived to beat Juventus and back in the 1990s, Bayern were humbled at Neuchatel Xamax’s then ramshackle stadium.
Going even further back, Young Boys and FC Zurich even reached the semi-finals of the old European Cup.
Yet the Swiss league’s chief executive Claudius Schaeffer fears that their teams may lose access to the competition altogether under a proposal by European soccer body UEFA that would in effect create a closed league from 2024.
Schaeffer told Reuters that leagues, clubs, fans and players needed to unite and form a “movement” to fight the proposal which he said goes against UEFA’s own statutes and the basic, historic principles of European football.
“We need to have a movement because we have many clubs who are very critical or against the vision presented by UEFA, and we have the leagues and we also know that the fans organisations have expressed serious concerns about such a vision,” he said.
“Everybody who is interested in safeguarding the football we have at the moment needs to stand up.”
UEFA, which did not immediately comment, has said that preliminary discussions are taking place over what shape European competition will take after the current international calendar ends in 2024, without giving further details.
However, according to reports of a meeting held between UEFA and representatives of the European Leagues last Wednesday, the European soccer body has already put a proposal on the table which would involve drastic changes.
Several league representatives who were present have said that UEFA has proposed a three-tier European league with promotion and relegation between each division.
The top tier — the equivalent of the Champions League — would include 32 teams and the top 24 of those would keep their places for the following season, ending the tradition that qualification for European competition is achieved via national leagues.
This has provoked opposition from the leagues, who say they have the backing of most of the continent’s 700-odd top-tier clubs.
“I would say they are breaking a fundamental principle of European football. As a club, you must have the dream that you can one day play against the big teams,” said Schaeffer.
“It is a principle of our football pyramid that you still can have this dream to play against those teams.”
The new competition would keep four places open to champions of national leagues, but Schaeffer feared this would not be open to lower-ranked leagues such as Switzerland.
“This is potentially a big change since the vision of UEFA would further exclude Switzerland from the top-level competition, we have to be frank,” he said.
Schaeffer, who admitted Swiss clubs had produced some poor performances in recent years, suggested that UEFA was going against articles 2g and 2h of its own statues.
“When you read the UEFA statutes, they say sport prevails over commercial issues and payments should mostly take the form of solidarity (supporting small clubs and grass roots),” he said.
“It is not the role of UEFA to have the best competition. They are also the governors, they have responsibility for 55 of their associations and the league football and all professional clubs in Europe, not just a few.”
He said the proposals had caused “tension” in European football.
“I can imagine that it might get very ugly but I think UEFA has to be aware that, in the end, they are just the big clubs and maybe some broadcasters that agree in such a vision,” he said.
He added the leagues and clubs had to come up with alternative proposals.
“It’s important to have this movement, it is important to say this project is not the right one,” he said. “The leagues will also present their own proposals to safeguard the vast majority of clubs in Europe, including the Swiss ones.“
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)