Clubs call for more time for Champions League reform

European Club Association (ECA) Chairman Andrea Agnelli attends a news conference after the 23rd ECA General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli insisted on Tuesday that the “real deadline” to finalise controversial plans to reform the UEFA Champions League is not until 2022 as clubs struggle to reach agreement on a way forward.

Agnelli, the chairman of Italian champions Juventus as well as the ECA, has been at the forefront of plans to reshape Europe’s elite club competition from 2024 which would turn it into a largely closed shop.

Those plans have been met with resistance from domestic leagues and from clubs below the very cream of the continental game, so the ECA’s two-day General Assembly in Geneva ended without a consensus on how to move forward.

“We know we have to find an answer by 2022. That is when they (UEFA) go to market in terms of selling commercial rights of whatever competition there will be,” Agnelli, who was earlier re-elected to the position of ECA chairman until 2023, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“So the real deadline if you want is 2022, but hopefully you will not need all that time.”

The ECA, which represents more than 230 clubs from across Europe, has been at the heart of the plans for a new-look Champions League, which were presented by UEFA in May.

The proposed reforms include the introduction of weekend fixtures, four groups of eight, and a tiered system with relegation and promotion that would see the top six teams in each group automatically qualify for the following year’s competition.

Fierce opposition from clubs and national leagues worried about the potential damage to their competitions led UEFA to cancel a meeting planned for September 11.

Crowded calendar
Over the last two days in Geneva, the ECA has carried on discussions with clubs but Agnelli called it “the end of phase one of the consultation”.

“What has been very important about the proposal on the table is that it has made everybody engage that there is a requirement for change,” he added.

“What is important is more European games, that is all we want.

“We want a fair access, we want greater participation for minor countries.

“What we want to remain loyal with are our principles. That is what matters, in a unified environment, where all stakeholders can come together and think for the best of European football going forward.”

However, in order to increase the number of matches played in European competitions, dates would need to be found in an already crowded international calendar.

According to several sources present at the ECA General Assembly, Agnelli has suggested reducing the number of teams in each domestic league as a solution.

When asked on Tuesday if that was the position of the ECA, Agnelli replied with a brusque “no”.

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