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"European League is the Future"
AC Milan Organising Director UMBERTO GANDINI speaks to Football Business magazine about the ongoing aims and ambitions of the European Club Association in 2008.

Following on from Football Business magazine’s exclusive assessment of the European Club Association in our last issue, we are delighted to be able to showcase the thoughts of AC Milan Organising Director and ECA Vice President Umberto Gandini, who offers us a fascinating insight into the future movements of European football, at all levels.

What is next for the beautiful game and especially for the UEFA Champions League? Eurocalcio editor Lorenzo Zacchetti spoke about it to Umberto Gandini, AC Milan Organizing Director and Vice President of the European Clubs Association

FB: What is the mission of ECA?


ECA is the natural evolution of the G14, which was founded in order to bring together the voice of the clubs in the governing bodies of continental and world football. Our mission is to represent our needs to both UEFA and FIFA and therefore we implement several side-activities in order to achieve our goals.

 

FB: So, what’s the difference between G14 and ECA?


Adriano Galliani and I were between the founders of G14, which was perceived as an elite and a self-referential organization. At the time, it was necessary to start a process with UEFA. They were very firm in their position, but now ECA has more room to communicate with them and work on the development of the game.

 

FB: Was Michel Platini’s election as UEFA President a crucial step in the turning from G14 to ECA?


I think Platini has completed a process which was in an embryonic phase during Lennart Johannson’s presidency. UEFA used to be much more focused on their CEO role, while Platini is a very active President. He has opened the UEFA door to us and we have taken the chance: it takes two to start a confrontation.

 

FB: But G14 split up only after Platini introduced a fee UEFA pay to clubs when their players are on international duty.


I would not talk about a fee. What really mattered to us was the concept that clubs could no longer be the only members of football’s family with no benefit coming from the World and European Cup. Platini recognised our request was fair and it was a very important victory. But it’s not only about the money. We have a very satisfactory agreement about it with UEFA, while numbers change with the FIFA one, as they have a much more complex organization. But the above-mentioned concept was accepted as well and that’s fair enough to us.

 

FB: ECA represents very rich clubs, while Platini’s presidency is focused on bringing sport values above economical aspects. What do you think about his proposals to renew the Champions League format?


Firstly, only a few football clubs are rich. The majority lose much money each season. Having said that, we think there’s a reasonable solution to everything. About the Champions League, of course sport values must be at the top, but you cannot deny football has become a very important industry. In the leading European countries it also affects the national economy. We are open to any ideas, but we think the Champions League is almost perfect as it is. Every season, it generates massive income and huge levels of passion.

 

FB: The same can not be said about the UEFA Cup, where your club AC Milan play this season. Do you have any idea to restore the interest in the second European club tournament?


We are aware of the problems that affect the UEFA Cup. The biggest is the technical gap with the Champions League, whose incomes come mainly from leading countries such as England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France. They represent the 85% of the tournament incomes. As their major clubs are in the Champions League, you have to accept the fact that the UEFA Cup cannot get as much interest. What we can do is avoid that the gap gets bigger. The new format kicking off in 2009 will be very similar to the Champions League one, with more matches and more quality. This agreement is a proof of how ECA and UEFA can collaborate to get good results.

 

FB: The Champions League and the UEFA Cup are like the first and second tier of an imaginary European League. G14 were keen on introducing a proper one: will ECA follow the same road or have you swapped this intention with the agreement on national teams?


I think it will be a logical consequence of Europe’s unity on a political level. Today, the EU counts 27 countries, but a proper integration is far from being complete. I still believe a European League will be an unavoidable step, tough it may take more time than expected.

 

FB: What would happen to domestic leagues then?


It’s the core of football tradition, so I don’t think it would be affected from the introduction of a European League. Between the fifty most important continental clubs, there’s none who would give up playing in their respective countries, as the domestic scenario is where we live day by day. As I said before, it will be a natural evolution, with both levels (domestic and European) properly integrated.

 

FB: Think global, act local: these things hardly go together and not only in football. Why are you against the “6+5 rule” Blatter suggested?


The excessive amount of foreign players is a problem which concerns only Europe and a solution must be found in Europe. Further, I don’t think it’s a very big problem. A research of FIFPro demonstrated that only a few clubs would be in trouble if the 6+5 rule was introduced. And when I say “trouble” I mean the necessity of changing 4 or 5 players in their rosters. Who would be in trouble? Arsenal? I think their fans would be happy to win the Champions League and would care absolutely nothing if the only Englishman in the roster was a 17-year-old substitute. And we must not forget that the EU has very clear rules about the chance every citizen has to work in any country, so we can not go back from here.

 

FB: What are the next issues you’re going to discuss with UEFA?


We have already opened talks about a calendar which harmonises club football and international football, but another very important thing in our agenda are the transfer rules. There are a few situations we are worried about. The Webster ruling may have harsh consequences on the managing of any club, but also the Cristiano Ronaldo saga is strongly linked with crucial matters. I don’t think Blatter was entitled to say that any player is free to sign for whoever he wants. I don’t discuss that, but Cristiano Ronaldo was also free to sign a contract with Manchester United and every player in his position is expected to respect his agreement. If contracts count for nothing anymore, how can you manage a football club?


Our sincere thanks go to Lorenzo Zacchetti for his help in assembling this piece.



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