Promotion and relegation from Champions League on the agenda at ECA General Assembly

Andrea Agnelli, chairman of the European Club Association, has stoked rumours that promotion and relegation could be introduced to the Uefa Champions League as representatives from 164 clubs gathered in Amsterdam for the ECA General Assembly.

Agnelli, who is also the chairman of Serie A club Juventus, said: “It [promotion and relegation] is something that is natural within the football environment. In the coming months we will discuss if that, and to what extent, can be increased within Europe. But it’s certainly something that is logical to an open system. It’s logical in every country, it might be logical internationally.”

In his address to the Assembly, Agnelli confirmed that the ECA Executive Board and the Uefa Executive Committee had already held preliminary discussions regarding changes to Uefa Club Competitions post-2024, at a meeting on 19th March. “We have now launched the process to develop a vision for the future of Uefa Club Competitions post-2024. This is the start of a journey that will see further and deep engagement with all professional game stakeholders, prior to reaching any formal decisions,” he said.

Promotion and relegation from the Champions League would be highly controversial as it would cut across the principle of qualification being achieved through placings in domestic leagues – a move which would inevitably undermine interest in those competitions.

It is not clear how any proposal for promotion and relegation in the Champions League would work, though the leading European clubs are thought to be agitating for a Uefa club competition system that favours the most commercially-powerful clubs and secures their participation in the Champions League on a more consistent basis. It is widely thought they have used the threat of creating a breakaway European Super League to secure concessions from Uefa in the past.

Last year, during the Football Leaks investigation, Der Spiegel indicated it had seen a “binding term sheet” for a 16-team European Super League that would include 11 leading European clubs as ‘founder’ members that could never be relegated. Five ‘initial guests’ would round out the competition.

The admittedly incomplete proposals, which SportBusiness has not seen or been able to verify, appeared to try to sidestep European competition law by including an option for a second league. In this, the best domestic teams at the end of each season could play a series of matches in an effort to win promotion to the Super League, but only against clubs that are ‘initial guests’. Der Speigel said the semi-closed structure was explicitly based on EuroLeague Basketball’s top-tier EuroLeague, which is not entirely closed to try to avoid violating European competition law.

Agnelli bridled at suggestions the ECA was looking to create a European Super League and argued that changes to Uefa club competitions, which include the introduction of a third competition in addition to the Champions League and Europa League from 2021-22, would create more opportunities for smaller clubs.

“We want to make sure that more teams and more national associations have the possibility of having their teams participate in a European system and allow them to properly grow within the system,” he said. “It is about keeping the dream alive in a growth pattern so that participation in an international competition is about developing a club, developing the sporting merits of a club and not just winning the lottery and playing a competition one year and not playing it for ten years.”

Agnelli also denied the ECA and Uefa were discussing scheduling more Champions League fixtures at weekends, contradicting accusations recently levied at the organisation by LaLiga.

Referring to last week’s meeting between the ECA Executive Board and the Uefa Executive Committee, Agnelli said: “I think in that room there were about sixty people if you put the executive committee members and the ECA Board, the administrations of both organisations, the word ‘weekend’ has never been used, so I don’t really understand where that is coming from. The word weekend has never been used.”

Uefa has maintained any changes to its club competitions will only be carried out after extensive consultation. When LaLiga’s criticisms of the governing body were put to it, a spokesperson told SportBusiness: “Uefa will consult stakeholder groups in the coming months to discuss ideas and exchange views regarding the future of European competitions. Such consultation will serve as the basis to draw up concrete proposals that will be thoroughly analysed before any decisions are made.”

Uefa and the ECA are discussing changes to European club competitions at the same time Fifa is reported to be offering the leading teams £50m to compete in a revamped quadrennial Club World Cup from 2021 onwards. But Agnelli repeated his calls for Fifa to discuss harmonisation of the International Match Calendar post-2024 before discussing the new competition.

“We have repeatedly stressed that the International Match Calendar and competitions have been agreed and defined up to 2024. The main priority at this stage must be for stakeholders to engage in a detailed assessment of how the landscape of international football might evolve post-2024 prior to addressing specific competitions. Fifa’s decision to revamp its Club World Cup starting 2021 is one the ECA cannot support.”