Berlin, March 30 (IANS) Satisfaction was written all over the face of European Club Association (ECA) President and German football legend Karl-Heinz Rummenigge after the organisation rejected plans for a widespread reform of the Champions League and a new European Super League starting from 2018.
An initiative of investors from the US, England and Asia sought the formation of a new 24-club league with 16 permanent teams and eight qualifiers.
Seven clubs from England, two from Germany (Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund) as well clubs from Spain and Italy were originally penciled in to compete in the league, reports Xinhua news agency.
Rummenigge on Wednesday confirmed that the ECA, which represents 220 clubs in 53 nations, “is happy to play under the UEFA flag, now and in the future.”
Rummenigge emphasised that clubs big and small alike will be happy with minor changes due to be made from 2018 in lieu of the initiation of a Super League.
In addition to Rummenigge, Juventus CEO Andrea Agnelli was another top official to reject a new league run by financially powerful investors.
But soon, Rummenigge and the ECA will have to face another initiative to change the face of the most important club competition in world football as several national associations are demanding the Champions League is expanded from 32 to 48 clubs, a move that is also opposed by Rummenigge and Agnelli.
The two leading officials have been negotiating to ensure four starting places for Europe’s top four countries — Spain, England, Germany and Italy. Italy’s share would rise from two to four, and the German Bundesliga’s fourth-placed team no longer has to qualify.
Smaller and less successful associations such as the Dutch will have to go through qualification with their national champions. Kick-off times from 2018 on will be staggered rather than all the games starting at 20:45 CET. One game will start at 19:00 and one at 21:00. UEFA will also increase its payment to the clubs from 2.4 billion euro ($2.57 billion) to 3.2 billion euro ($3.43 billion) by 2021.
Several smaller clubs, mainly from eastern Europe, are behind the idea to increase the number of Champions League participants from 32 to 48, due to fear of being left out should the top nation become even stronger. On the other hand, Rummenigge is concerned the competition could lose quality and become less attractive for fans.
The Rummenigge fraction points out that the gap between the first and the last of the group phase has already widened from 7.5 points in 2003/2004 to eleven points in the current season. Games almost over at halftime lose over 50 per cent of TV viewers. In comparison, a 2-2 scoreline attracts up to 25 per cent more fans.
But not only smaller associations and leagues will suffer disadvantages. After the ECA’ s latest Champions League reform, the English Premier League will receive 67.5 million euros ($72.4 million) less from their share of TV rights fees.
In addition to EPL clubs, teams that were less successful in the Champions League in the past will also receive less. Former winners will continue to benefit even if their last success was ten or twenty years ago. Financially powerful clubs like Manchester City or Paris St. Germain who have not yet won win a Champions League title will be given less TV money.
Supported by an Austrian billionaire and a soft-drinks manufacturer, Bundesliga newcomers RB Leipzig also cannot expect to be among the top earners should they qualify for the Champions League for the first time next year.
Some smaller clubs will benefit from the new system, since a nation’s coefficient will be replaced by a club coefficient from 2018 onwards. Clubs will no longer benefit if other teams from the same nation are successful in the two European competitions. They will have to rely on their own success.
The ECA will be rewarded by UEFA with two seats on their executive committee and greater influence in merchandising measures relating to the European club competitions. According to Rummenigge, the reform strengthens the positions of both the Champions League and Euro League.
At the same time, ECA President Rummenigge is demanding fewer games for clubs and national teams during the European season, after he complained they were having to play far too often.