ST JULIANS, Malta: Europe’s leading clubs, contrary to perceptions, appear to be virtually back at square one over how the international club competitions should be reformed writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

A ramblingly incoherent press conference after a two-day gathering of the 200-plus members of the European Club Association in Malta produced nothing addressing the widely-publicised leaks about an expanded group stage in the Champions League.

Instead chairman Andrea Agnelli, balancing his organisational responsibility awkwardly against his club interest as president of Italian multi-champions Juventus, said only: “This is the start of the process. As of today it will take months before we can come to an agreed solution with all stakeholders – UEFA, European Leagues, rh ECA and FIFA for the international calendar part.

“If everything works we will be able to present something but this [today]  is as good as we can do in total faith. I would ask you reporters to allow for a process to take place.”

The challenge for ECA is devising diplomatically-delicate proposals which suit all its members, never mind the wider European game. This was, according to Agnelli, the overarching priority of ECA, since the current system is “broken” because it is accentuating the club chasm between rich and poor.

Ajax concerns

A point at issue among ECA clubs was put succinctly by Edwin van der Sar, the ceo of Ajax Amsterdam who were Champions League this past season but revert to the qualifying rounds next term.

The former Holland and Manchester United goalkeeper explained: “Not everyone is going to get what they want. It’s about stability. It’s not about Juventus or Bayern or Barcelona or Real Madrid it’s about the other clubs having stability and focus.

“For example, my budget is without Champions League football because we can still lose in the qualifiers and have no European money.”

Agnelli rejected media reports about disagreement among the clubs. He conceded only: “They have voiced concerns.” He added: “What was good was that we put these concerns at the centre of discussion and now we can develop the concept.”

This must all have been music to the ears of Aleksander Ceferin, president of European federation UEFA who will already have on his desk a skeleton concept for the future shape of the competitions. World federation FIFA is also rushing ahead with plans to kick off an expanded Club World Cup in 2021.