UEFA, ECA presidents squash Super League rumours; discuss VAR, Football Leaks
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM -- UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin and European Clubs Association (ECA) President Andrea Agnelli appeared in a joint news conference on Tuesday to say they had signed a letter of intent to extend the memorandum of understanding -- the agreement that governs the relationship between clubs and governing bodies -- through 2024. In a freewheeling, hour-long conversation with journalists, they touched upon a range of issues from Financial Fair Play to the international match calendar to a breakaway European Super League.
ESPN FC senior writer Gab Marcotti answers some of the biggest questions following Tuesday's events.
Start with the Memorandum of Understanding. Does it mean we won't have a breakaway Super League?
Not until 2024 at the earliest. But the two of them went out of their way to say they were against it. "A super league is out of the question," Ceferin said. "Every single European club will have to qualify for European competition... the dream must stay alive."
You'd expect Ceferin to say that. What about Agnelli? He represents the clubs and he's also the president of Juventus.
He was a tiny bit more coy about it when I asked him directly. He vehemently denied that any super league discussions between big clubs had been held since 2015 (contrary to some of the Football Leaks allegations) and emphasised that the clubs were happy with their relationship with UEFA. He also said the current set-up "should be enough to keep the clubs happy," adding that clubs "have all the tools to shape European football together in the medium and long term."
And he talked about how clubs' interests aren't just economic, but they have a social dimension, too, and he says this as the longest-standing owner of any club in any sport anywhere in the world: His family have owned Juventus since 1923.
So yeah, he talks a good game. Let's see if he delivers.
Do you think he will?
At least until 2024. After that, it'll depend on whether the clubs get what they want from UEFA. That's pretty much been the story of the last 15 years: The big clubs from the big, wealthy leagues push for a little bit more and eventually get it.
Every indication is that they are working together to make changes.
Agnelli talked about the international match calendar. He'd like to see a situation where confederation tournaments such as the Copa America, Gold Cup and African Cup of Nations are held only in even years, which, for those summer tournaments, means going head-to-head with the Euros. He'd like to have fewer international breaks too, but perhaps longer ones, so you'd play the same number of matches, 19, in every four-year cycle. He'd also like to see mandatory rest periods for players, periods in the calendar when no football is played.
All of which sounds reasonable, though they'll have to work it out with FIFA. What sounds reasonable from a European perspective may not make sense in the rest of the world.
What about club football and European competitions?
Well, there's going to be a third UEFA competition, possibly starting in 2021. They wouldn't go into detail as they say it still needs to be worked out, but judging by their enthusiasm for the UEFA Nations League and how smaller nations have benefited from playing teams of a comparable size, the rumour is that it will be sort of a "third tier" beneath the Champions League and Europa League. Agnelli talked about how important it was for clubs to have "an international dimension" that could "build brand equity."
Are you buying this?
Let's wait on the details. If they make it meaningful -- perhaps granting a Champions League spot to the winner -- it might make sense. If you simply "relegate" the 12 worst clubs from the Europa League into a new competition, well, I'm not so sure there will be much fan (or sponsorship) interest.
Speaking to the BBC, Agnelli said he wanted to "harmonise" fixture lists and "rebalance" the calendar. What did he mean by that?
He mentioned the fact that different leagues have different numbers of teams in their top flight: La Liga has 20, Swiss Super League 10. For example, the maximum number of domestic games a German team can play is 43, whereas in England, where there are two cup competitions, it's 53. But he didn't go into too much more detail. What's more, it's not ultimately ECA's (or UEFA's) call: The leagues get to decide how many teams and how many cup competitions they have.
What about VAR? Are we getting it in the knockout rounds of the Champions League?
This bit was funny. First, Ceferin said they needed to wait on a report, due next week, about some of the technological aspects and about the availability of match officials, but it would be implemented by next season "at the latest." Then Agnelli piped up to say that "next season at the latest" meant it could still come in this year for the knockout rounds. Pretty obvious how he feels about it.
What about some of the other rumoured changes, like domestic football switching to midweek and European games being played on weekends?
Ceferin said he didn't see that happening. It's easy to understand why, as most clubs don't play European football and having them sit idle on weekends, when fans are off work, would be silly.
How about European leagues playing domestic fixtures abroad? That's right, I'm thinking of La Liga in Miami.
Ceferin wouldn't speak specifically about that, but his answer spoke volumes. For it to happen legally, you'd need the green light from the Spanish FA, from UEFA, from CONCACAF and from the USSF. He said he'd followed the lead of the Spanish FA, since that's his constituency. So the ball is in their court on the European end of things. At the other end, it would be up to USSF boss Carlos Cordeiro and CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani.
Did they say anything about Football Leaks? Were their organizations hacked?
According to them, neither UEFA, nor Juventus, nor ECA were hacked. Agnelli said that if his email were hacked "he wouldn't have a problem with it" because he has nothing to hide.
Ceferin went further. "These days all communication is public," he said. "If you don't understand this, one day everything could come out. So you have to behave and act in the right way. If we haven't learned that, we haven't learned anything. Obviously some systems were hacked... but there's also a public interest argument there. If you do the right things, you won't have problems if your emails get hacked."
That may be true, but I imagine they are hoping that hackers won't read it as an open invitation to try to break into their servers.