New UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin wants to protect Europe’s national leagues from the threat of breakaway competitions.
Ceferin was elected last month amid talk of a future closed-shop Super League and breakaway cross-border divisions as some clubs seem ready to chase bigger commercial deals by move beyond the bounds of national leagues.
“I am against killing national leagues. That is out of the question,” Ceferin told The Associated Press ahead of Friday’s annual meeting of the group of European leagues.
The former Slovenia soccer federation leader said he is open to innovation — such as creating regional leagues — but within limits and inside UEFA’s control.
“There are some new ideas and not necessarily bad, but UEFA should be involved in that,” Ceferin said in his first major interview at UEFA headquarters on Thursday. “It should not hurt national leagues because without national leagues I think football is dead.”
Radical change looked possible this year as UEFA was without a president during talks on Champions League entries and distributing billion-dollar annual prize money for the three seasons from 2018.
Some wealthy and influential clubs exploited FIFA’s ban of Ceferin’s predecessor Michel Platini by framing the negotiations around threats to break away, or force UEFA to lock a cartel of storied clubs into Europe’s top competition without the need to qualify via domestic competitions.
Ceferin took office three weeks after UEFA sealed a compromise deal that favored the big-four countries: Spain, Germany, England, and Italy. It left mid-ranked clubs doubting where they fitted in the Champions League’s future as broadcasters demanded more high-profile match-ups.
Moving quickly to build relations with European Club Association leaders, Ceferin believes the Super League threat is over for now.
“It would create a war,” he said. “We are on the same side with the big clubs. They don’t want to do it without UEFA. Clubs also know they would have problems if they would break away. If it would be easy, they would be already gone.”
The latest trend is exploring regional leagues where neighboring countries each provide some teams. The North Atlantic and Balkans are options, creating more compelling and higher-standard competition than the individual national leagues.
Ceferin said cross-border leagues could supplement national leagues, not replace them.
“As an additional competition it’s a good idea. (I)t should be played for those who don’t qualify for the Europa League and Champions League, maybe from the New Year on,” he said.
“We can’t kill the national leagues. If you take, for example, two clubs out of the Slovenian League (into a Balkan league) then the Slovenian league is over.”
Elected in a landslide with a mandate to help the smaller UEFA member federations, Ceferin also wants to defend tradition.
“People like revolutions, they like to speak about big changes, but you should be clever,” the criminal lawyer said. “You should take into consideration everything and national leagues are too important.”