League is the Future"
Organising Director UMBERTO GANDINI speaks to Football Business magazine about the ongoing
aims and ambitions of the European Club Association
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
What are the next issues you’re going to discuss
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?
thanks go to Lorenzo Zacchetti for his help in assembling