Sport

Top European clubs want to make the Champions League a closed shop

Leicester's transformation from relegation certainties to title contenders in the space of 12 months is one of the greatest footballing stories in recent years - and if they claim the title it would probably represent one of the game's greatest-ever triumphs.

But in the modern game, stories and triumphs come second to money; at least, according to a cartel of top clubs, who are looking to turn the Champions League - the pinnacle of European and World club football - into a closed shop.

The European Clubs Assocation, which represents the continent's biggest clubs such as Real Madrid, AC Milan and Manchester United, are currently meeting in Nyon, Switzerland, and, according to a report in The Sun, one of the ideas which gained greatest support was a plan for senior clubs to be guaranteed places in the Champions League from 2018 - regardless of whether their domestic performances qualify them or not.

The ECA exert huge influence over UEFA and with the next Champions League TV deal due to begin in 2018, they intend to wield their power, suggesting that the biggest clubs will be those most attractive to broadcasters, even if they're not there on merit, so they should be included every year.

Ironically, the move has almost certainly come as a result of another TV deal; the latest Premier League deal, which kicks in at the start of next season, was worth a huge £5.136bn, and has enabled almost all Premier League clubs to attract star talent - and also be under less pressure to sell their best players which, combined with the well-publicised travails of Chelsea and Manchester United, has seen one of the most unpredictable top divisions in many years. Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United are all potentially set to miss out on the riches of next season's Champions League, as the table stands.

Louis Van Gaal's Manchester United have struggled in the face of increased competition this season

This, of course, is great for the fan, but not for the bean-counters at the top clubs, who are fearing their reign at the top will be challenged, and the whole idea of the Champions League, with its group stages and huge guaranteed income, was meant to solidify those clubs' positions at the top of their domestic leagues, creating a 'cartel by default' - which is not far off what has happened already (Arsenal, for example, have qualified 16 years in a row).

Indeed, the original change from a straight knock-out to a group system came about in 1992 after the big clubs threatened to break away and form their own competition. Now it seems that they are spooked enough again to try and create effectively a European League.

Proposals suggest that a certain number of top clubs will be guaranteed places, with the remaining, fewer spots, still available for qualifiers - however, this could obviously exclude a great number of teams that would otherwise qualify on merit, the likes of Leicester being a prime example, as well as the champions of smaller nations (of course, some already need to qualify before the group stages begin).

Bundesliga boss Christian Seiffert has already given his blessing to the proposals, saying, ”If a Super League comes in the way you’ve heard it, and I’ve heard it, that could help us with brand recognition. As with any company in the world, Uefa or the ECA has to think about what can be done better in the future.”​

(Images: Rex)