Top European clubs discussing forming their own “Champions League”

Christian Brun/Keystone via AP

LONDON (AP) European football’s power vacuum is being seen as an opportunity by clubs to have a big say in overhauling its richest competition.

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The Champions League could look very different by 2018 if some of the continent’s biggest teams convince UEFA to offer them guaranteed spots in a more American-style competition.

The European Club Association thrashed out various visions for the Champions League of the future at meetings in Nyon earlier this week, before UEFA leaders met in the Swiss city without a president as the governing body stalls on replacing the banned Michel Platini.

What UEFA would certainly try to block is an attempted breakaway by elite clubs, forming their own continent-wide competition – the often-threatened Super League. UEFA has already attempted to placate the ECA by giving two seats on its executive committee to club representatives.

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And UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said on Friday: “The Super League already exists. It’s called the Champions League.”

But the theoretical Super League discussed by the ECA executive board is a far more radical idea than UEFA’s current top club competition.

The Champions League currently provides entry for the defending champions, the winner of the second-tier Europa League and on merit through domestic league positions.

The ECA is weighing up the merits of advocating turning the Champions League into a more closed competition, like the NBA or NFL, a person with knowledge of the meetings told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings were private.

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The talks are taking place now to ensure there is a united position to propose to UEFA later this year before it starts to sell Champions League television rights for the three seasons from 2018-19.

Disparities across European football are sharpening the need for change for some clubs.

The wealth of Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Real Madrid ensures they dominate their domestic leagues and a monumental collapse would have to occur to fail to qualify for the Champions League – such as the type of downfall experienced this season by Chelsea. The English champion is the victim of an increasingly competitive Premier League, whose next set of three-year television contracts are on course to generate around $13 billion.

Chelsea has gone from winning the league by eight points in May to currently languishing 14 points from the top four which guarantees Champions League places, having seen domestic rivals gain the financial power to resist attempts to sell their top talent.

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Chelsea, the world’s eighth wealthiest club by revenue, is likely to be absent from UEFA competitions next season.

Chelsea has only won the Champions League once, in 2012. But AC Milan, a seven-time European champion and 14th in the latest revenue ranking of global teams by accountancy firm Deloitte, is now in its second season out of Europe.

The person with knowledge of the ECA talks said the current qualification system sees too many clubs with vast fan bases, prestige and large stadiums not qualifying through their leagues. Teams like Barcelona and Bayern can target their resources on Europe at key times in the season, knowing there is little threat posed domestically, unlike more balanced leagues in England and Italy.

One option discussed is a Champions League that reserves places for a band of powerhouse clubs who are attractive to broadcasters, alongside an open qualification system for a changing roster of teams.

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The ECA sees that as being an attractive option to UEFA when it goes to market with television rights for 2018-2021 and tries to maximize the value of deals. Clubs are currently sharing 1.257 billion euros ($1.4 billion) each season from Champions League television revenue.

“We are discussing everything with the clubs when it comes to club competitions,” said Infantino, UEFA’s top administrator who is seeking the FIFA presidency. “We are currently having discussions as we do every three years how we can adapt and improve the structures of our competitions.”

International players’ union, FIFPro, wants the stars of the competitions to influence any revamp.

“If clubs and governing bodies think they can act unilaterally, they have another thing coming,” FIFPro spokesman Andrew Orsatti said. “Only through collective bargaining where clubs and players thrash out all the issues, including proposals for new competitions, will football be fair.”

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