Europe’s leading clubs have reiterated their opposition to world governing body FIFA’s plan for a revamped Club World Cup in June 2021 but have said they are happy to talk about a new format after 2024.
Earlier this month, FIFA’s ruling council ignored European opposition to approve a proposal to scrap the existing Club World Cup, which is contested by seven teams every winter, and replace it with a 24-team competition in the summer slot currently used by the Confederations Cup, the largely ignored World Cup warm-up event.
The proposed new competition was reported to be worth up to £50m for every participating team, yet Manchester United were among the majority opposing it.
Europe’s clubs, leagues and governing body are not fundamentally against the idea of revamping the Club World Cup, they just do not want to do it without a wider discussion about the international match calendar, which is fixed until 2024.
And that has been Europe’s position ever since FIFA president Gianni Infantino first floated the idea of a bigger, richer and more meaningful Club World Cup a year ago.
Speaking to reporters at the European Club Association’s 22nd general assembly in Amsterdam on Tuesday, ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli restated that stance, saying none of the ECA’s 232 members would “participate in this competition at this moment in time because of the congested calendar”.
But he then added “we are more than happy to discuss changes in the future”.
Sitting alongside Agnelli, who is also chairman of Juventus, were the chief executives of AC Milan and Ajax, Ivan Gazidis and Edwin van der Sar, respectively.
Asked if they could guarantee that their clubs would not be taking one of the eight proposed slots for European teams in the 2021 competition, Agnelli said “I don’t understand how we could take part, given there is no details on access” to the tournament, while Van Der Sar said “they are planning a tournament but that’s all we know – everything else is unclear”.
Gazidis, the former Arsenal chief executive, then confirmed that “unless and until” work is done on a “coordinated calendar” for the global game, “we can’t take part”.
But if that sounds like the last word on the matter, Agnelli added: “We are all interested in a revamp of the Club World Cup – let’s be clear about that.
“But conditions and situations change. Your question might not stand if certain things change within the next three, six or nine months – nothing is forever.”
This would appear to be an admission that talks between FIFA and Europe’s top clubs on the Club World Cup have really only just started, something Agnelli hinted at when he said FIFA’s deputy general secretary Zvonimir Boban had been on the phone to the ECA’s general secretary Michele Centenaro “every day” since the vote in Miami.
Other indicators of how fluid the situation is are the comments made by representatives from Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in recent weeks, with both clubs suggesting they would love to take part in a more prestigious Club World Cup.
And even UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin admitted that he “was not naive enough to think conversations are not taking place” between FIFA and individual clubs in his address to the ECA meeting on Tuesday.
That said, however, the clubs have consistently told FIFA they want concessions on the calendar. These include reducing the length of the “player release window” ahead of international tournaments, “bundling” more games together in international slots to reduce the impact on clubs and closer harmonisation between confederation championships.
But the potential changes are not all in FIFA’s gift, as the ECA and UEFA are also looking at closer alignment between national calendars and a radical overhaul of European club football after 2024.
The former could mean the end of the situation where an English club might play 52 domestic games a season, while a German side plays a maximum of 40, and the latter could see the replacement of the current Champions League/Europa League structure with a midweek format involving as many as 100 teams.
Agnelli, Van Der Sar and Gazidis refused to say anymore about “the vision” UEFA shared with them at a meeting in Nyon last week but stressed that the cooperation between the parties was “unprecedented and transparent”.
Agnelli also said he thought it would take 12 to 18 months before the post-2024 plan for European club football was decided.
He did, however, rule out the playing of European club games at weekends, apart from finals, and promised the system would be based on “sporting merit”.
“A champion will always be able to participate,” he said. “That is dogma. There will always be a path for champions.”