Top clubs to review Champions League format with UEFA
By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's biggest soccer clubs, keen to secure automatic entry into the Champions League, are working with UEFA to review the format of the continent's elite competition.
The European Club Association (ECA) represents over 200 clubs including all the major ones such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Chelsea.
ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has suggested the top clubs should get direct entry into the lucrative Champions League, which European governing body UEFA launched in the 1992-93 season to replace the European Cup.
"We're starting the review process of the Champions League to see with UEFA which improvements we can bring to have the most attractive football product," ECA vice-chairman Umberto Gandini told a news conference on Tuesday.
"This is a process that will last six to nine months maximum."
All teams currently have to qualify for the competition by virtue of their domestic league position in the previous season.
Former Germany striker Rummenigge, who is chief executive of Bayern Munich, told a German newspaper last month that a European league was a possibility.
"I don't rule out that in the future a European league will be founded, in which the biggest teams from Italy, Germany, England, Spain and France will play," he said.
However, Olympique Lyonnais president Jean-Michel Aulas believes that is currently a step too far.
"It's premature to consider the idea of a 'super league'," he said on Tuesday.
Proposals for a so-called European Super League, featuring the continent's top clubs, have come and gone over the years.
In 1998, Milan-based sports marketing company Media Partners held talks with leading clubs, including AC Milan and Manchester United, as they sought to build support for a breakaway league.
FIFA threatened national associations, clubs and players with suspension if they joined the proposed Super League.
UEFA killed off the plan by expanding the Champions League, offering clubs a greater slice of television and sponsorship revenue, and increasing prize money.
The Champions League group stage was expanded from 24 to 32 teams while the Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Cup competitions were merged to form the Europa League.
European club competitions run in three-year cycles and major changes to the structure only take place at the end of each cycle. The current cycle will end after the 2017-18 season.
“We are following the usual path, every three years we analyse with UEFA, within the ECA, the success of the competition, the possible amendments, changes, and this is exactly the phase we're in at the moment,” Gandini said.
The independent ECA, which replaced the G-14 group of leading clubs in 2008, promotes its members interests on European club matters and aims to be involved in the decision-making process of the game's governing bodies.
(Wriiting by Ken Ferris; Editing by Ed Osmond)