After what LaLiga President Javier Tebas described as “months of upheaval in European football,” a brief pause has now begun. When proposed reforms to European Club Competitions (UCC) emerged in early 2019, consisting of three tiered leagues and a practically-closed Champions League, a wave of opposition spread from leagues of all sizes citing the damage it would do to their domestic competition. It appears this opposition has now been heard.
This month UEFA, which has been working with the European Club Association (ECA) on the reforms, postponed a meeting with clubs and leagues to take its plans forward, citing the need to collect for feedback, with no revised date given.
The decision to cancel this meeting was welcomed by Tebas, who spoke at Soccerex Europe about the crucial flaws in the plans that were proposed and the changes that should be made to ensure a fair and sustainable football model for the future.
Problem of governance, not competitions
Tebas explained that the major problem in European football right now isn’t the structure or format of UEFA’s competitions, but rather the way in which decisions are taken by those in positions of power.
“Whoever thinks the issue of competitiveness in European football can be solved by changes to the formats of competitions, like those that have been proposed, is completely mistaken,” Tebas said during the discussion in Portugal. “To try to find a solution in European football, it’s about changing governance. If we want to restructure the European football industry, the leagues behind the national industries need to have much more participation in the decision-making process.”
Tebas scrutinised the proposals that were put forward and criticised the “dangerous” effects they would have on the economies of individual countries. Citing the example of Spain, Tebas reminded the audience at Soccerex that professional football contributes to 1.37% of Spain’s GDP and to more than 100,000 jobs. Proposed changes to the footballing ecosystem, he said, could “kill the national industries of Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands or any other place”.
Statements from leagues in countries such as Italy, Sweden, Germany, England and Denmark have shown that other competitions share these concerns. Even the President of France has spoken against it. Tebas argued that there is something fundamentally wrong with the decision-making process for there to have been such opposition to the ideas.
“What happened for the project to be halted?” Tebas asked. “What reflection should UEFA and the leagues make about a project that was presented in March about changes to the Champions League model and that was soon halted? What happened? Why was there such opposition that almost no federations were in favour at a recent meeting? Also, I don’t know of any league in Europe that supports the project.”
For Tebas, the answer is that those planning European football’s future aren’t engaging in discussions with the national leagues. “The decision-making environment and the environment in which solutions are sought for the problems of European football are wrong,” he said. “Those who presented this reform to European football didn’t know what was happening in European football.”
Didnt manage to catch all the action at #SoccerexEurope? Dont worry! We have two photo archives for you catch up on everything you missed!— Soccerex (@Soccerex) September 6, 2019
Day 1: https://t.co/EXJT4GLdjC
Day 2: https://t.co/fB0GGgYJac pic.twitter.com/65E4wMf2WX
Treating all leagues as equal
Dialogue and genuine negotiations are needed to shape the future, Tebas continued. The LaLiga President called for UEFA to speak to the leagues as an equal: “The European competitions are a part of the industry, but at the same level as the national leagues,” he said.
“The leagues, as part of the football industry, and UEFA should join up and debate and reach agreements on where we want European football to go. UEFA shouldn’t have a superior position.”
It is a view supported by the industry at large. European Leagues, an association of 36 leagues in 29 countries, also spoke at Soccerex to call for “a new era of cooperation with UEFA,” launching the #SupportYourLeague campaign and website as a means of gathering views on what UEFA competitions should look like after 2024, the date at which the structure of continental competitions can be reshaped.
As Lars-Christer Olsson, the President of European Leagues, put it: “We feel that this new platform and campaign will enable us to canvas the broadest base of opinions, ideas and strategies possible in a transparent way. We look forward to a healthy and productive process for UEFA club competitions reform in the coming months in order to reach an outcome that works for all of European football.”
European Leagues has already identified the protection of domestic leagues, an increase in participation and fairer financial distribution as three key starting points, but there is a long way to go in the process of shaping the future of European football’s formats and, even more importantly, in shaping the future of European football’s governance.
As Tebas summed up: “European football isn’t the same today as it was 15 years ago. We’ve created a very strong industry in Europe but there’s a need to regulate it. We have to pay close attention to what is happening and to what is coming.”