The head of Italy’s Lega Serie A has warned that European leagues could strike against Uefa plans to replace the Champions League and Europa League with a pan-European league with fewer clubs qualifying based on domestic league performance.
In a widely-reported interview with Italian state broadcaster Radio Rai, Luigi de Siervo said that the ‘super league’ plan, which could include promotion and relegation and restricted access for teams which perform well in their own leagues, would damage football.
“With this project most (domestic) championship matches would have no sporting value. Our championship would become little more relevant than a national cup competition,” he said.
De Siervo said “the reform does not allow a bright future for the great European leagues” and that his league was prepared to go on strike “together with the other great European Leagues.”
The English Premier League, Spain’s LaLiga and Germany’s Bundesliga were unwilling to comment specifically on suggestions of a strike when contacted by SportBusiness, but their united opposition to the current plans is well documented.
Following last week’s meeting of European Leagues, the body which represents some 300 clubs from 38 countries, the organisation’s president Lars-Christer Olsson emphasised their “significant” concerns and said that the leagues must be part of any decision to format change decision and that domestic performance must remain the qualification route for Uefa competitions.
The Premier League has previously issued a statement saying all 20 of its clubs agreed “it is inappropriate for European football bodies to create plans that would alter the structures, calendar and competitiveness of the domestic game and will work together to protect the Premier League.”
“The structures of domestic football are determined by leagues and their respective national associations. We will now work with the FA and other leagues to ensure that European football bodies understand the importance of this, and their obligation to maintain the health and sustainability of domestic league football.”
The issue has the potential to create damaging division within individual leagues, not least in Italy where Juventus and European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli is thought to be driving the proposals.
It is not clear what form a strike might take, or who it would hurt other than the leagues and clubs themselves. It would seem bound to emphasise the conflict within leagues and, should the league order clubs not to play, it would inevitably hit revenue flows and create potential legal issues with broadcasters and other rights-holders.
The fear is that the changes would create a closed league by stealth, with Europe’s major clubs guaranteed a place in European competition irrespective of their performance in domestic leagues. That, it is argued, would inevitably undermine domestic leagues in which the desire to finish high enough to qualify for Europe ensures more games are truly significant and gives and helps create the narrative to the league season.
European basketball has long faced a similar, but not identical, issue. In the Euroleague a number of top clubs – several linked to football clubs, including Real Madrid and Barcelona – have been given multi-year licences, removing their need to qualify each year. Some observers believe this has impacted the quality and relevance of domestic competitions.