Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has accused the Premier League’s big clubs of running scared if they entertain controversial proposals for a European Super League.
Representatives from five established powers of the English game – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United – met with the chairman of American company Relevent Sports, Charlie Stillitano, in London on Tuesday.
The meeting was primarily about the pre-season International Champions Cup competition, which is staged in the United States and Asia and organised by Relevent Sports, and the clubs have denied that any discussions took place regarding a European Super League.
However, when asked if a Super League was still on the agenda, Stillitano told radio station Sirius XM on Thursday he favoured a “change in format” to guarantee places for the big teams, adding: “What would Manchester United argue: did we create soccer or did Leicester create (it)?”
Leicester and Tottenham currently hold the top two places in the table and Ranieri criticised talk of a split on Friday, saying: “It’s good that there is a big competition, and you have to deserve (to be in) the Champions League.
“For one year you don’t achieve this, you want to make something different? I think it’s not right. You are afraid. You are not strong. You are afraid to lose money. It’s not good for the sport.”
Ranieri found unlikely allies in a number of managers whose own so-called “big five” clubs stand at serious risk of missing out on a lucrative top four place this season.
Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal went further, suggesting the Champions league should revert back to its old format when only the domestic league winners took part.
“Everybody knows, when you follow my career, that I am against all the super leagues and something like that,” the Dutchman said.
“Sport is to be the best and also when the Champions League was (expanding), I said it was rubbish because now the second, third and fourth team is also playing.
“It has to be between champions in my opinion. I said that 20 years ago and I say it now again.”
Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink appeared to support Ranieri and Van Gaal in suggesting qualification for Europe’s elite competition should be based on sporting success rather than financial might.
“I think we must all be careful to go into exclusivity when teams like, this year, surprisingly, Leicester is mixing in,” the Blues boss said.
“They have the full right to be where they are now and are a good contender for the next Champions League this year.”
Meanwhile, Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini, whose side’s own participation is still not secure after the 3-0 midweek defeat to Liverpool, said he favoured the current system.
“If you ask me, I don’t like it,” the Chilean said. “I think it’s important that every country has its own domestic competition and that you arrive in the Champions League for the merits from the whole season.
“In South America there was something similar where they tried to join all the important clubs of every country and it was not very successful. In the way the Champions League is doing so far, it makes it a very good competition.
“All the stadia are full. If you don’t have the merit to arrive in the Champions League I don’t think it’s the same.”
New FIFA president Gianni Infantino said the talk of a breakaway was nothing new from his time in his previous role as UEFA general secretary.
Infantino, speaking on Friday evening in Cardiff, said: “These discussions have always taken place and since I started to work at UEFA in 2000 I spent half of my time discussing and arguing with clubs and in the end always finding solutions.
“I am sure UEFA will have the right people to discuss with the clubs if they have any issues. If they cannot sort them out, I will be there to help.”