Liverpool’s chief executive Rick Parry and Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger have spoken out against UEFA’s proposed changes to the format of the Champions League.
Yesterday, UEFA announced plans to scrap the second group stage of the Champions League for the 2003-04 season, replacing it with a two-leg knockout stage. The changes are intended to reduce the number of games played by Europe’s top clubs and give players more time to rest between games.
Tiredness among leading European club players was cited as the principal reason why many of the leading national teams performed so poorly during the World Cup finals in South Korea and Japan.
However, the proposed changes have attracted criticism with clubs concerned about the effect it may have on revenue.
“The initial reaction is one of bewilderment and surprise,” said Liverpool’s chief executive Rick Parry.
“The last time the major European clubs were invited to discuss a proposed change to the format the overwhelming conclusion was to keep things as they were. Suddenly we hear that the format has been changed without us having any prior knowledge.”
“I don’t know how they have arrived at this decision. There is a view that we might need to reduce the number of match-days but this is a significant reduction which in turn will mean a considerable reduction in the revenue generated.”
“When you sign players and undertake long-term financial agreements you don’t expect to find out that the amount of revenue coming in from the Champions League is suddenly going to be altered.”
Parry’s sentiments were echoed by Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger:
“Can they (UEFA) guarantee the same money by playing less games?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know. The pressure for this did not come from the clubs but from television.”
Responding to the idea that television money was the prime reason for the change, UEFA spokesman Mike Lee denied this, citing players’ health as the key factor. ‘The easy option would have been not to change the Champions League, and this is what some clubs and television companies wanted.”
“We are one of the opinion that fixture lists are becoming too congested and there is a danger that too much football is being played.”
On a related front, Arsenal chief executive David Dein has recommended that the Premier League introduce a three-week winter break to allow players to rest. Dein said hehad support from managers for his proposal, which could go before the League within the next few weeks.
“Arsene (Wenger) is in favour and I met Gerard Houllier recently and so is he.”
“The proposal would be that after probably New Year’s Day there would be a three-week break which would give the players the opportunity to go to the Caribbean or wherever and then come back for the second half of the season.”
Dein also claimed to have had the support of England manager, Sven Goran Erikkson in pushing for a winter break.
“Sven said that some of the England players were not at their peak and a couple of boys were definitely a bit below par,’ said Dein.
“The next stage would be when the (Premiership) managers get together in a few weeks, and it will be on the agenda. I would be disappointed if the rest do not fall into line. The decision should be promoted by the managers because it is for the players.”
A Premier League spokesman, responding to the suggestion, said: “If a serious decision is made by the FA then it’s something we would have to look at, but until then it’s very difficult to comment.”