KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Aleksander Ceferin’s campaign to win the presidency of European federation UEFA has gained a further undercurrent of support after the Champions League coup staged by the ever-more-powerful European Club Association.
The president of the Slovenia football federation is taking on two of the game’s administrative heavyweights in Spain’s Angel Maria Villar and Holland’s Michael Van Praag at an extraordinary congress in Athens on September 14.
He is doing so by following the vote-seeking strategy of banned Michel Platini in appealing to the vast majority of middle-range and minnow associations to resist the ever-increasing power of the rich western European associations and their elite clubs.
Last week, in an interview with the BBC, he said: “One of the main issues awaiting the next UEFA president is relations with the big clubs. My opinion is that some kind of closed super league with just a few clubs in, without the possibility for the others to enter, is out of the question. It will mean a kind of war between UEFA and the clubs.”
He appears, at the least, to have lost his first battle already.
On Friday, in what appeared a rush for money and power to beat Ceferin’s possible election, UEFA announced that, for the three-year commercial convention from 2018, the top four leagues – meaning Spain, Germany, England and Italy – would all be guaranteed four firm places in the group stage.
Currently the ‘fourth team’ of the top three leagues has to compete in the qualifying play-off round while fourth-ranked league, currently Italy, has only two guaranteed places plus one in the playoff round.
The champions and runners-up of the fifth and sixth-ranked leagues, at present France and Russia, will continue to have two places while the champions of the seventh to 10th ranked leagues, currently Portugal, Ukraine, Belgium and Turkey, will also qualify automatically.
However leagues 11 and 12, currently Switzerland and the Czech Republic, will lose their guaranteed places in the group stage.
Instead, they must compete with national champions from all the other European leagues in the preliminary competition for four slots.
The unspoken threat hanging over UEFA, as every time this renegotiation comes around, was that the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, the Manchester duo etc, would consider exploring a ‘super league’ of their own though this would be fraught with practical and political difficulties.
Theodor Theodoridis, UEFA’s acting general secretary, insisted that a solution within the present parameters had always been the priority.
He said: “From the very beginning, the feeling was the ideal solution for everybody would be a solution in the family. We spoke to everyone … the feeling we had was that they always wanted to stay.”
A triumphalist note was sounded by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the chairman of ECA.
He said: “I welcome UEFA’s decision, it reflects a serious and fair solution for European club football. I am particularly pleased with the fact that the European football community remains united moving forward.”
Rummenigge’s view of what comprises unity may not appeal to many of the federations prsented with the fait accompli of the clubs having gained an ever more powerful role within UEFA.
The ECA already has two representatives on the UEFA executive committee. Now it will partner UEFA in a subsidiary company “that will play a strategic role in determining the future and the management of club competitions: UEFA Club Competitions SA.”
Half of the managing directors will be appointed by UEFA and the other half by the ECA. It remains unclear where this leaves TEAM Marketing which has been the sole marketing partner of UEFA ever since the creation of the Champions League concept in the early 1990s.