Clubs make late push for greater control over Champions League


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League - Quarter Final & Semi Final Draw - Nyon, Switzerland - March 19, 2021 General view of the trophy ahead of the draw UEFA/Handout via REUTERS

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Europe's leading clubs are making a late push for greater control over the business and running of the Champions League in return for backing UEFA's reforms of the competition.

At the heart of the latest talks is the role of a joint company set up between UEFA, European soccer's governing body, and the clubs to deal with the commercial, broadcasting and marketing rights to the competition.

There has been a broad consensus over UEFA's plans to expand, from 2024, the Champions League to 36 clubs and to change the group stages with 100 more games and scrapping the current groups of four teams for a single table for qualification for the knockout stage.

UEFA were hoping to have agreement in principle over the plans at Wednesday's executive committee meeting ahead of an official vote next month.

But the European Clubs Association (ECA), which represents 246 European clubs and is led by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, now say they want to address the governance structure for the competition before signing off on the deal.

The UEFA plan has been produced against the backdrop of reports of a breakaway Super League, run by the top clubs without the governing body involved.

The ECA are already involved in UEFA's club competition structures, including the second-tier Europa League through a joint company, known as 'UEFA Club Competition SA' or UCC.

UCC is a subsidiary company of UEFA where half the members of the board are appointed by the governing body and the other half by the ECA.

It was created following the signing of a five year agreement between UEFA and the ECA in 2018 -- a deal which will run out before the proposed new Champions League format begins.

Currently UEFA define the companies role as: "To advise and make recommendations to UEFA Club Competitions’ Committee on strategic business matters and opportunities for its consideration before being referred up to the UEFA Executive Committee for approval."

'FUTURE RELATIONSHIP'

The clubs are pushing for a role which goes well beyond advising UEFA, however.

On Tuesday evening, the ECA's executive said that it was not ready to endorse UEFA's plans "in isolation".

"The Executive Board believes that if European football is to meet the challenges it currently faces, the foundations for ECA and UEFA's future relationship also need to be given due consideration at the same time," said the ECA, who said their stance was backed by clubs at all levels of their membership.

"The Executive Board is fully committed to working with UEFA over the coming weeks on all topics and remains confident of reaching successful outcomes, which will be crucial in ensuring European club football’s rebuild and long term sustainability," they added.

Earlier this month, Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, a leading figure in the ECA who also sits on UEFA's Club Competitions Committee and is a member of the board of administration of the joint company UCC, told his club's investors that change was coming.

Woodward said he expected the final UEFA deal to include "a greater involvement of clubs in the governance and control of the competitions".

ECA chief Agnelli recently said that if a new package of agreements on governance and control of the competitions was to be confirmed, the clubs might make "individual commitments" to the structure.

"If we have clubs that will commit individually to the future competitions... it will actually put it (Super League) to sleep," he said.

UEFA said on Tuesday that a formal decision on the reform plan would be taken at their April 19 executive committee which is held a day before their annual congress.

(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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