ECA boss Andrea Agnelli hits back at CL reform critics
By Press Association
Last Updated: 06/06/19 9:44pm
European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli has hit back at criticism of his plans to restructure European football after 2024, branding it "protectionism" on the part of the big domestic leagues.
The Juventus president was speaking at the start of a two-day ECA meeting in Malta, where bosses from Europe's leading clubs have assembled to discuss the next move in what has become a bitter dispute about the future of UEFA's club competitions.
Earlier this year, details emerged of a joint ECA/UEFA proposal to replace the current Champions League and Europa League with a three-tier system, involving 96 clubs and promotion and relegation between the tiers.
But the plan would also mean fewer places in the top-tier Champions League for qualifiers via domestic competitions and a significant increase in the number of fixtures, something the domestic leagues believe can only be achieved by playing more European games on weekends.
Opposition to this idea has united a coalition of clubs, leagues and politicians, with the likes of the Bundesliga, La Liga and Premier League coming out strongly against the plan, which they see as another attempt to create a European Super League.
Only this week, the acting head of the German FA Reinhard Rauball claimed the Bundesliga and Premier League would team up to block it, with seven leading Spanish sides - all of La Liga's ECA members apart from Barcelona and Real Madrid - saying they would not take part.
French president Emmanuel Macron even weighed into the debate on Tuesday, telling FIFA boss Gianni Infantino before the international federation's congress in Paris that he was worried about the impact of the changes on the domestic game.
Agnelli, however, has denied the ECA is trying to ring-fence the Champions League's riches for the top clubs.
He said: "The proposed reforms are motivated by a desire to share the wealth more widely."
In his opening speech on Thursday, Agnelli said it was important to find answers that work for "European football as a whole, not individual markets", and this is why the idea of 40 teams keeping their Champions League and Europa League places from one season to the next was so important.
"The whole principle of access is about addressing stability"
"It's not just about tier one (the Champions League) it's from the quarter-final of tier two (the Europa League) all the way up. It's about team number 16 to team number 40-50 in the club coefficients.
"Those are the clubs that carry the biggest risks in not being able to grow in a European system because of the current access system.
"Ajax made the semi-final of the Champions League this year, the double at home, league and cup winner - but only go into the Champions League's qualifying rounds. How can Ajax grow?"
Turning to the opposition he has faced from the leagues, Agnelli said: "What has been really disappointing so far has been the whole conversation has been driven by representatives of the big five leagues.
"I see it as protectionism of the big five vis-a-vis the rest of European football."