Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri says the Premier League’s big clubs “should blame themselves” if they fail to qualify for the Champions League amid speculation surrounding a breakaway 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: ”I think it is. They’re talking about it all over Europe. At least a change in format.
”When they came up with the Champions League, the idea wasn’t to have PSV and Genk playing in the knock-out stage.
“What would Manchester United argue: did we create soccer or did Leicester create (it)?
“Let’s call it the money pot created by soccer and the fandom around the world. Who has had more of an integral role, Manchester United or Leicester? It’s a wonderful, wonderful story – but you could see it from Manchester United’s point of view, too.”
Leicester and Tottenham currently occupy the first two of the four Champions League places available for next season, with United and Liverpool currently outside the Premier League’s top four.
Asked about this week’s events, Ranieri said on Friday: “This is sport, no? I understand they want to do something, but if something strange happens, they shouldn’t blame the little teams, they should blame themselves.
“(Talk surrounding a Super League) is speculation. They are trying to do something, but I think people must think about what fans want, not only about money, because the culture and the fans are more important than other things.
“I think they wouldn’t start (a Super League) next season, but then something could happen. Maybe next time (Relevent) will have to also call our sporting director!”
Chelsea interim boss Guus Hiddink appeared to support Ranieri 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,” he said.
“They have the full right to be where they are now and are a good contender for the next Champions League this year.”
Asked if the top clubs were spooked by the success of Leicester, Hiddink added: “I hope so. Why not? That’s real sport. We must not forget what it’s all about in sport.”
UEFA is aware of the threat of a breakaway competition but remains confident the continent’s elite clubs will remain committed to the Champions League.
It has been suggested that Europe’s top clubs may attempt to exploit the leadership vacuum at UEFA, which has stated it will not set a date for presidential elections until Michel Platini’s hearing over his ban from football at the Court of Arbitration for Sport has been heard.
Greek official Theodore Theodoridis was on Friday unveiled as interim general secretary at UEFA’s executive committee in Nyon, replacing Gianni Infantino, who was last week elected the new FIFA president.
While Theodoridis has faith that UEFA will not be deserted, he is keen to continue discussions with all clubs to ensure their needs are satisfied.
He said in a video broadcast on www.uefa.org: “We have experienced a very positive attitude in our discussions with the clubs. What we’re facing is constructive discussions.
“I’m not very worried. It is a big challenge for us, definitely, but I trust also our management that we will be taking the right decisions into the future always in consultancy with the clubs.
“We have some very strong executive committee members as well who have been in this position in the past, coming from clubs, coming from leagues and big associations and I think that together and hand-in-hand we will make this one right.”
UEFA expects to sell the television rights for the three years from 2018 to 2021 to be finalised by the end of the year, with Theodoridis adding: “We look quite positively on it.”