European soccer clubs reunite to talk World Cups, bailouts

GENEVA (AP) — European soccer clubs were offered backing from UEFA on Monday to oppose FIFA’s push for biennial World Cups while being promised a “multibillion debt fund” to stabilize their industry in the pandemic.

For the first time since the pandemic started and the Super League project collapsed, about 160 members of the European Club Association met to hear the vision of their new leader, Nasser al-Khelaifi, who kept his Qatar-owned club Paris Saint-Germain out of the Super League plan in April and helped to sink it within days.

“I will not spend much time talking about the … ‘not-so-Super League’ because I do not like to focus on fabulists and failures,” al-Khelaifi said in a speech published by the ECA, whose previous chairman, Andrea Agnelli, resigned in April because his club Juventus was a Super League founder.

Al-Khelaifi spoke alongside his close ally UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin to start an intense week of talks in European soccer against a backdrop of FIFA pushing a proposal for two-yearly World Cups for men and women. If approved, it would create a marquee tournament every year.

They detailed ideas the ECA and UEFA are working on to help European soccer recover from billions in lost revenue and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are all facing this new COVID reality today — every single club is feeling the pain,” said the PSG president, though his own club signed Lionel Messi among a slew of star players in the offseason. PSG also last week rejected a near 200-million euros ($237 million) bid for Kylian Mbappé from Super League rebel Real Madrid.

“If we don’t act soon, the damage will be impossible to reverse,” al-Khelaifi said. “The ECA is working hand-in-hand with UEFA to put in place a multibillion Euros debt fund to allow clubs of all tiers to accelerate their recovery from the financial devastation of COVID.”

Clubs should be able to cover debts by getting loans secured by UEFA against future commercial revenue from European competitions that are currently worth almost 4 billion euros ($4.75 billion) annually. Loans are not intended to pay for future transfers.

“We will not cover irresponsible behaviors,” Ceferin said, saying the goal was to “extend a hand” to clubs affected by revenue losses in the pandemic.

The UEFA president also wants European soccer to resist FIFA’s wish for biennial World Cups. The proposal was formally put by Saudi Arabia’s soccer federation in May at the annual meeting of FIFA’s 211 national members.

“More is not always better,” Ceferin cautioned on Monday. “We think that the jewel of the World Cup has value precisely because of its rarity.”

FIFA currently earns close to $6 billion from each men’s World Cup. An extra tournament would likely be worth less yet would give FIFA more to share with members — including the 55 in Europe — while potentially taking available revenue away from club competitions.

Ceferin did not refer to ongoing legal action by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus to challenge UEFA’s control of organizing competitions at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

He did denounce “the disgraceful and charlatan Super League” that the three rebels refuse to disown.

UEFA opens a two-day conference on Thursday of clubs, leagues, player unions, agents and fan representatives.

That meeting will discuss European soccer finances including how to replace the Financial Fair Play system of rules to monitor clubs’ spending.

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