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Fans groups unite to oppose changes to the Champions League
Thursday, 14th Apr 2022 22:28 by Tim Whelan

UEFA’s latest proposals to revamp the Champions League are solely designed to benefit the current European elite, and could be damaging to the likes of Leeds United, with our hopes of gate-crashing the party some time in the next few years.

And thankfully we’re not the only ones alive to the danger, as fans of clubs throughout the Premier League have come together to insist that places in Europe’s top competition should continue to be decided by sporting merit alone.

If you thought the danger of a power grab by the biggest clubs on the continent had disappeared in the summer with the demise of the so-called “Super league”, then think again. Something equally horrible is now on the agenda, but this time it’s officially sanctioned by European game’s governing body.

The proposal is to have an expanded group phase, with each club playing ten games in total to qualify for the last 32. But even more damaging than that is the idea that some clubs can qualify because of their past glories even they don’t manage to secure a high enough place in the league. So from 2024/5 onwards sixth place would be enough for Man United, but not for us.

The expansion of the group phase will mean that the clubs who get into the tournament will enjoy a huge increase in the gate money and TV revenues from the tournament, which will give them a huge advantage over the other clubs in the league who are trying to break into the elite. And the need to accommodate the extra fixtures will mean the big clubs will take the domestic cups even less seriously than they do now, again affecting the finances of those at lower levels of the game.

It's quite possible that this expanded Champions League is what the biggest clubs wanted all along, and the Super League was just a bluff, to scare UEFA into making concessions and allow them a big increase in guaranteed revenue through official channels. But after the demise of the Super League has removed the alternative of a breakaway by the big clubs UEFA should now be able to face them down and refuse to allow them to put their interests above those of every other club on the continent.

Now the same supporters organisations who co-ordinated the fan activity that defeated the Super League are back to demonstrate the depth of opposition to the latest proposals. The Premier League Network of the Football Supporters Association said this week “Last year UEFA told us that fans were the heart of the game and promised fans’ views would be centre stage in deciding what came next”.

“So it is with great dismay that we now face the prospect of changes to the Champions League that will mean many more group games being played and entry for some clubs being based on a historical five-year ‘UEFA Club Co-efficient’.

“These proposals will only widen the gap between rich clubs and the rest, at the same time wrecking domestic league calendars, with the expectation that fans sacrifice yet more time and money attending meaningless group games. Fans do not want even more European games, especially drawn out group stages of ten games and an extra knockout round”.

“It is irresponsible and out of touch to even consider doubling the number of home games that fans will have to attend before the last 16 knock out round begins. This will be compounded by the cost of living crisis that is hitting Europe. Furthermore, we do not see how increasing the requirement for teams and fans to fly around Europe is compatible with UEFA’s environmental commitments”.

“We call on UEFA, and the members of its executive committee (EXCO), to specifically reject any plans that base qualification to the Champions League (or any other UEFA club competition) on anything but sporting merit performance in a relevant domestic league and increase overall the number of games in the competition. To do so, will further increase financial pressure fans and damage the welfare of players who are being asked to play too much football”.

“Premier League fans do not want ten group games involving a small cartel of rich clubs further distorting competitive balance. We want strong, competitive domestic leagues, an equal opportunity for all to qualify for UEFA competitions based on sporting merit, along with a fairer distribution of the game’s wealth from the revenues those competitions earn”.

“We call on UEFA to demonstrate that it acts in the interests of the wider football community and its supporters, not just the interests of the few rich investors and state-owned clubs that, less than a year ago, tried to destroy the European football family”.

There has been no word yet about these proposals from Andrea Radrizzani, or anyone else at Leeds United, but he must be aghast at the prospect of the drawbridge being pulled up in front of us just as we could be reaching it with the coming investment of the 49ers. Last year the t-shirt slogan “earn it on the pitch” said it all, and it’s time that the club came out to back the supporters organisations once again in the interests of us all.


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