Expanding the Champions League will threaten the FA Cup and widen the ‘obscene’ gap between the richest clubs and the rest in English football, Gary Neville and David Bernstein have claimed.
Sky TV pundit Neville and former FA chairman Bernstein have spoken out on controversial UEFA proposals to increase the teams in the competition from 32 to 36 and raise the number of matches by 100.
Their campaign group, Saving the Beautiful Game, has issued an analysis of the UEFA plans, which they claim will simply benefit the biggest clubs and make it harder for aspiring teams to reach the top.
Clubs with recent history of European success could have a protected route into competition
‘[The proposals will] accentuate and embed the deep financial inequality already existing within our game,’ the group said in a statement.
‘The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” will grow with broadcasting rights skewed even more towards the very top clubs.’
Former FA chairman David Bernstein has delivered a grim assessment of how football is run
The high-powered group, which also includes former sports minister and Conservative MP Helen Grant and former executive director of the FA, David Davies, says the suggested reforms of the Champions League are ‘anti-competitive’ and will undermine English football.
And they see it as further evidence of the need for an independent regulator of the national game- a cause they have raised with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.
‘By common consent, it is hard to see how our existing football calendar in England could survive,’ said the group.
‘Threats to the very existence of both the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup as we know them would be very real.
‘How can such development not diminish the experience of the overwhelming majority of football fans in England?
The Champions League plans, as currently put forward, would require four new match weeks for the Champions League, which would see group games extend into January.
Under UEFA’s proposals the Champions League would expand by four teams and 100 games
Gary Neville (right) has urged Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (left) to hurry up and consider the reform of football governance by organising the promised ‘fan-led review’
As well as the size of the proposed competition, which will run from 2024, Neville, Bernstein and Co also object to the protected access promised to the most powerful clubs.
Under the plans, which will be decided at a UEFA executive committee meeting chaired by president Aleksander Ceferin next month, clubs with a history of European success can be boosted from the Europa League into the far more lucrative Champions League.
Three of the four extra places would be allocated according to UEFA co-efficients, which would see two go to clubs that finish in a Europa spot with the highest ranking and one to the winner of a European league with the highest ranking, which is often Ajax.
The Saving the Beautiful Game reform group wants an independent regulator in football
The final place would be allocated to fifth ranked country, which is France.
The Champions League proposals have been broadly endorsed by the European Club Association.
But they have also been criticised by many smaller and mid-sized clubs, who are also concerned that they and their domestic leagues will be marginalised if the plans are agreed.
A major worry is that the expanded Champions League will attract greater broadcast revenue, while the deals on offer to the Premier League and EFl, as well as leagues across Europe, will diminish.
Crystal Palace chairman, Steve Parish, led objections to the plans at a European meeting
Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, will chair the meeting when a decision is made
At a recent meeting of the European Leagues association, Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish, Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow and EFL chairman Rick Parry all spoke out against the plans.
But Neville and Bernstein are concerned that there is no one coherent voice representing English football in these ‘seismic’ debates and they accuse the FA of staying silent.
‘It is hard to think of a better example, following on from football’s failure to speak with one voice through the pandemic, as to why the game urgently needs a truly Independent Regulator,’ said the group.
‘To speak with authority on the seismic issues impacting our national sport. To stand up for the interests of ALL the game at ALL levels. To bring fairness and sustainability to football in our country.’