The Malta Independent 27 May 2019, Monday

Clubs push for promotion-relegation in European competitions

Associated Press Thursday, 25 April 2019, 17:45 Last update: about 1 month ago

Europe's elite soccer clubs are pushing to play each other more often by lobbying UEFA for changes to the Champions League that would see the introduction of promotion and relegation.

European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli, who runs Juventus, is seeking to seize control of an overhaul to the continent's competitions from 2024 by telling members to boycott a meeting convened by leagues next month and only attend its own summit in June.

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In a letter to the ECA's 232 member clubs on Thursday, Agnelli criticized the European Leagues organization for trying to preserve the "status quo," and instead set out a vision that would see the biggest changes to the Champions League since non-domestic champions were allowed entry in 1997.

European Leagues President Lars-Christer Olsson responded in a letter to leagues and clubs, saying they are "grown up enough to make their own judgments without getting 'orders' from the ECA president." Olsson said an attempt by the ECA to steer the future shape of competitions could lead to an "abuse of (a) dominant position" that should be investigated by competition authorities.

The leagues organization is trying to preserve the status of domestic competitions, resisting plans that could lead to the creation of a European Super League for the wealthy and powerful teams.

Even with four teams from each of England, Italy and Spain given a direct route into the Champions League group stage, Agnelli wants reforms that will entrench the status of the biggest clubs in the competition.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Agnelli wrote to ECA members to say "more European football is good for the game ... for fans, for society, for cultural, sporting and financial development."

The financial power of Juventus has obliterated the competitiveness of the Italian title race, with Agnelli's team last weekend winning a record-extending eighth straight Serie A with five games remaining. It points to why Agnelli would want Juventus to play more often against continental rivals, advocating "European matches with higher sporting quality and a more competitive environment at all levels."

Among principles which Agnelli believes are "fundamental to the future of European football," he advocates a "pyramidal Pan European League System with continuity and opportunity to grow from within" by adopting an "enhancement of mobility and dynamism across the system through carefully applied promotion and relegation."

Currently only the winners of the second-tier Europa League are promoted to the Champions League for a single campaign. The winner of a third-tier competition launching in 2021 will also be promoted to the next Europa League.

The Champions League winner is guaranteed entry the following season but the other slots are determined based on where a team finishes in their domestic league.

Some teams, like Dutch runner-up Ajax, had to start in qualifying rounds in July. That meant Ajax played six games to reach the group stage, but it has managed to reach its first Champions League semifinal in 22 years.

Agnelli said competitions should be "open to all — keeping the dream alive" but the specifics on when teams have to enter could see smaller teams eliminated before facing the powerhouses.

Agnelli does, however, say that places should be "based on sporting meritocracy, not historical privilege" after suggestions that European pedigree could be applied to help leading teams qualify while struggling in their domestic leagues.

Agnelli is trying to diminish the role of the leagues in shaping the future of competitions by accusing them of spreading "misconceptions ... in the interests of preserving the status quo."

The European Leagues body has invited clubs to a meeting in Madrid on May 6-7 but Agnelli wants his members to attend only an ECA special general assembly on June 6-7 in Malta.

"It is not appropriate for European Leagues to be inviting ECA members and we recommend that you not attend this meeting," Agnelli told clubs.

"In the event that you do deem your presence worthwhile, we would ask that you insist not to be associated in any formal manner with any communication that may arise from the meeting — as the European Leagues will surely try to do."

In the letter from the European Leagues to members and clubs addressing Agnelli's comments, Olsson said the Juventus chairman could be "afraid that too many ECA members are coming to Madrid."

"The European Leagues will in any case develop our own proposal for the future of the European club competitions and then you will be able to judge for yourselves which model will be the best," Olsson said. "When you have made your own mind up, you will have to convince your own Football Association and your Leagues to work for the introduction of your preferred model. Do not forget that it is the Football Associations that 'owns' UEFA who will take the final decision."

The UEFA president is elected by Europe's 55 associations.

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