A new group aiming to represent the interests of European football clubs outside the global elite has been launched in Brussels, seeking greater distribution of funds to smaller clubs and open and more balanced European competition.
The Union of European Clubs (UEC) said on Monday that some 1,400 professional clubs were not taking part in European competitions and had no voice in decisions taken by governing body the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) that still had a bearing on them.
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Representatives of 40 clubs from 25 countries attended, including England’s Aston Villa and Brighton & Hove Albion, Spain’s Sevilla and Valencia, and Germany’s Borussia Monchengladbach.
The UEC will accept membership applications from professional clubs playing in the top two national leagues, seeing 200 members as “reasonable to target” by the end of the year. Membership is free.
A challenge the group faces is that the rival European Club Association (ECA) is now the only clubs body that UEFA recognises.
The ECA represents more than 200 clubs across the continent although it is dominated by the big teams, including some of the 12 initially involved in a planned breakaway Super League.
Access to ECA membership with full voting rights is for clubs regularly playing in UEFA competitions that currently pay about 2.8 billion euros ($3bn) in total prize money each season to the 96 teams involved.
“We do feel we aren’t represented anywhere in European football,” Crystal Palace co-owner Steve Parish, a speaker at the Brussels event, said.
Javier Tebas, president of Spain’s La Liga, which backs the UEC venture, said ECA only represented the elite.
Katarina Pijetlovic, an official with the new group, said the UEC aims to change a mindset in which clubs “accept scraps left behind by the elite … just enough to keep them docile”.
Other speakers included Alex Muzio, president of Belgium’s Union Saint-Gilloise, who reached the Europa League quarterfinals two seasons after playing in Belgium’s second tier.
“I fear we’re becoming something of an exception, a rarity. Big clubs are getting bigger and small clubs getting smaller,” he said.
The UEC said access to European competition should remain based on domestic league results, with more balanced revenue sharing. Its backers also question why UEFA gives more prize money to clubs that have done better in the past than to equal-performing newcomers.