Europe’s top football clubs insist they have no plans to set up a breakaway Super League of elite teams to replace the Champions League.
“We are not designing anything at the moment,” European Club Association vice chairman Umberto Gandini said after a meeting attended by 143 members on Tuesday.
The ECA’s own leaders have helped fueled recent speculation of a breakaway from the UEFA-run Champions League or giving guaranteed entries to some big clubs who do not qualify on merit.
The uncertainty comes as the clubs prepare for talks with UEFA about changing the Champions League and Europa League entry rules and competition formats for the 2018-2021 seasons.
Gandini said there will be a process of “six to nine months” to agree to any changes before UEFA begins selling commercial rights for those seasons.
The process begins while UEFA’s president, Michel Platini, is suspended and general secretary Gianni Infantino is travelling worldwide to campaign for the FIFA presidential election on Feb. 26.
Though Infantino met with the ECA on Tuesday, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas acknowledged that UEFA’s situation “mostly brings uncertainty” for the clubs.
“Our contact points are not continually present as it was before. It goes without saying it is a trying time for us,” said Aulas, who expressed support for fellow Frenchman Platini’s appeal against an eight-year ban by FIFA.
The Champions League has been a big commercial success, with UEFA sharing 1.257 billion euros ($1.4 billion) among clubs for each of the next three seasons.
However, mainstays like AC Milan, Inter Milan and Manchester United — who all won a title in the past decade — have each missed out in at least one recent season and are currently outside qualifying places.
“There are a lot of conversations going on,” Edwin van der Sar, an ECA board member and chief executive at Ajax, told the Associated Press.
The Super League talk has flared while Van der Sar’s former club, Manchester United, looks up in the Premier League standings at surprise leader Leicester City — just the type of smaller club which would be excluded by a closed competition.
“I don’t think that is the discussion at the moment,” said Van der Sar, who played on two Champions League-winning teams. “That is the nice thing about football, that at a sportive level anything can happen.”
While European clubs are open to changing the Champions League, they want the World Cup to remain the same as a 32-team event.
The ECA restated its opposition Tuesday to the 40-team tournament proposed by Infantino, which would take 184 more players away from their clubs for at least one month on national-team duty.
“It is something not really appealing to us,” said Gandini, a Milan director. “We clubs consider ourselves as the main providers of the actors of these events.”
Despite this difference with Infantino, the ECA gave its support to his campaign in the five-candidate election, and demanded an “active and constructive role” for clubs in future FIFA decisions.
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