European women’s soccer vision sees place for indie clubs

GENEVA (AP) — Independent teams should have a place beside storied names from men’s soccer even as the women’s game develops rapidly, the organization of Europe’s top clubs said Monday.

Clubs such as Fortuna Hjørring and Glasgow City — which do not have men’s teams — are currently a fixture in the later knockout rounds of the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

The competition figures to get only tougher for the long-standing independents after Juventus and Real Madrid bought into women’s soccer in the past four years.

Creating new clubs is one of six key goals in a strategy for women’s soccer published by the European Club Association, which represents around 250 men’s clubs.

Those new clubs should include “big brands” and “green field clubs” joining the sport, said ECA chief executive Charlie Marshall.

“Finding avenues to launch, to grow and to professionalize new clubs is a big part of what we want to try to achieve,” he told reporters in an online briefing.

The document also foresees providing a “care package” to support clubs that are “teetering on the verge of existence.”

Marshall acknowledged the bigger men’s clubs would continue to invest in women’s soccer and “that is not something that is going to be prevented or indeed should be prevented.”

Juventus and Madrid bought the license of local women’s clubs that were then rebranded in their names, while Manchester United created a team in 2018 that won promotion to the top-tier English division in its debut season.

The appeal of the Women’s Super League in England was shown with a breakout domestic broadcasting deal announced this month.

One attraction for the biggest clubs is changes to the UEFA Women’s Champions League, which was won for the past five seasons by Lyon.

Next season it will have three teams instead of two from the top-ranked nations — including England and Spain — plus a new 16-team group stage. The final will be hosted at the 41,000-capacity home of Juventus in Turin.

Another key aim in the ECA is “development of the competition landscape,” with a second European club competition targeted.

FIFA also has a long-time goal of creating a Club World Cup. With strong opponents from the United States, Europe would be less likely to dominate as it has in the men’s version.

The ECA strategy also seeks to run more medical research and data analysis projects that are currently lacking in women’s soccer.

Sharing details of running youth academies is a main target, said Claire Bloomfield, the ECA head of women’s football.

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