G14 disbands as Platini’s plans to shift balance of power in European football gather pace

16.01.2008

By Steve Menary
An idea by G14, the lobby group for Europe’s most powerful football clubs, to establish a new body to represents all the clubs appearing in UEFA competitions has been abandoned. In a deal struck with UEFA and FIFA, the G14 will now disband, in favour of a European Club Association.
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European football set for a shake up with new reforms agreed by UEFA and top European clubs

The move follows reforms to Champions League qualification advocated by UEFA chief Michel Platini aimed at readjusting the balance of power in European football.

G14, which represents 18 major clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester United, claimed to be planning a new all-embracing pan-European club body but has completely abandoned the proposals after a summit meeting in Switzerland with UEFA and world football’s governing body, FIFA.

The deal will see G14’s members drop a number of legal cases aimed at securing compensation for clubs when players are away representing their country in a compromise that Barcelona president Joan Laporta described as “victory for all”

In return, UEFA and FIFA will offer financial compensation for clubs and UEFA’s European Club Forum will be transformed into the European Clubs Association.

The move is the latest in a series of sweeping changes aimed at moving the balance of European football away from the big clubs by UEFA’s new president Michel Platini, who has also reformed qualification for the Champions League.

Platini’s change to Europe’s premier clubs competition was announced shortly before Christmas and is aimed at helping those smaller clubs, who G14 claimed to want to help then deserted so swiftly after this week’s compromise deal with UEFA and FIFA. 

Changes to Champions League qualification
The league stages of the Champions League will stay the same but from 2009/10 qualification is very different.

Using UEFA’s latest seedings, the top trio - Spain, Italy and England – would get three guaranteed places each. League winners and runners-up in nations ranked four to six - France, Germany and Portugal this year - get two entries, while the Dutch, Greek and Russian champions would enter on latest form.

If the system began this season, the Romanian, Scottish and Belgian champions would join them as nations ranked 10 to 12 also get one direct entry.

The best-placed teams in countries ranked 1 to fifteen still not in the Champions League then play-off for five more places.

All these countries already regularly supply clubs to the Champions League but a new play-off between the champions of nations ranked thirteen to 53 should provide a change.

The reforms were predictably watered down as this new stage was expected to offer six guaranteed slots with the play-off between countries ranked one to 15 getting four.

At the last minute, this was switched to five slots in each new play-off but getting the Champions League reforms unanimously approved by UEFA’s executive committee was a triumph for Platini.

The ExCo represents Europe’s establishment and 15 of the 17 members supply teams regularly to the group stages. The smaller nations were only represented by Maltese committee member Doctor Joe Mifsud and Cypriot treasurer Marios Lefkaritis.

On current form, the new play-off would still pit the champions of Malta and Cyprus against seasoned Champions League clubs from the likes of the CzechRepublic and Turkey.

Reforms benefit smaller clubs
The early rounds of the new qualifiers will continue to start before domestic leagues in places such as Luxembourg and the most direct benefit to smaller clubs will be changes to the solidarity system, which sees clubs eliminated in the first qualifying round getting €166,700.

In early 2009, UEFA will revise this system but qualifying for the group stages and the basic €3 million on offer is not the aim of the reforms says Paul Philipp, president of the Luxembourg Football Federation.

Formerly the Grand Duchy’s manager and a professional with Standard Leige in Belgium, Philipp says: “I think it is a good step in the right direction for the smaller nations but we must be very careful and respect the larger clubs. The Champions League is very important for larger and smaller nations as it brings in lots of money and we all share that money.

“This season Liverpool beat Besiktas 8-0. Hopefully that was an accident. If we have several more matches of that quality it would not be good for the Champions League and it would sink to the bottom.”

In the 2005/06 season, F91 Dudelange became the first Luxembourg club to win a Champions League or European Cup tie in four decades after beating Bosnians Zrinjski 4-1 on aggregate.

Philip thinks smaller clubs just need different ambitions, adding: “It’s not possible to have one club from every country in UEFA in the Champions League. Once you’ve won one qualifying tie you have to think of winning another and getting more attractive opposition.”

Clubs in larger UEFA members, such as Finland, are more optimistic. Football Association of Finland media officer Sami Terävä says: “Although the route to Champions League is not easy, it is a bit easier than in previous years. We do believe it is possible for Finnish clubs to qualify in the future.”

This season, the first Montenegrin club entered the Champions League qualifiers. Zeta eliminated Lithuanians Kaunas then lost 3-0 on aggregate to Rangers. Ivan Radovic at the FA of Montenegro says: “

We believe qualification to group stages is much more realistic now than it was with the old system. It will make it possible for the clubs to attract more sponsors.

The reforms will give [a] chance to smaller members clubs, which will help the development of football in small countries. It will lower the quality level of the Champions League but will take it a step away from the private league for the richest clubs that it seemed destined to become.” 

Platini’s vision closer to realization
Michel Platini’s election campaign for the UEFA presidency was based on taking these sort of steps and the new European Clubs Association should continue this trend.

Even if G14’s proposals for a larger pan-European club body had progressed as the lobby group insisted up until only very recently, the likes of Zeta or F91 Dudelange were unlikely to have any voice in this new grouping.

In contrast, UEFA can hardly set up a new clubs body that does not embrace all 53 members in some form.

Despite the compromises reached in reforming the Champions League and eradicating the G14, the reign of UEFA’s new president looks likely to be one that incorporates not just money but fairness.

Steve Menary is the author of Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot. Visit  http://outcasts-book.blogspot.com/ to learn more about Steve and the book.

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