Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli has accused Europe’s biggest clubs of “protectionism” in their response to plans to revamp the Champions League.
The European Clubs’ Association (ECA) wants Uefa to introduce four groups of eight teams in place of the current structure of eight groups of four.
The move would add eight more matchdays and is likely to generate more income for clubs.
On Wednesday, the Premier League said it unanimously opposed the idea.
Opening an ECA general assembly in Malta, Agnelli, in his role as chairman, told the 400 delegates: “What has been really disappointing so far has been the whole conversation has been driven by representatives of the big five leagues.
“I see it as a protectionism of the big five leagues vis-a-vis the rest of European football.”
England’s Premier League, La Liga in Spain, Germany’s Bundesliga, Serie A in Italy and France’s Ligue 1 are regarded as the biggest leagues in Europe.
Agnelli said: “I can give you an answer as a member of a big five leagues, because I play in one of them. And I can give you an answer as chairman of the ECA. My answers will vary… depending on which hat I put on in giving you the answer.
“The hat I care the most about [today] is the hat of the European Club Association chairman.
“It is important that we, in a united way, concur in finding solutions for the good of European football.”
Senior executives of England’s leading clubs were in the room in St Julian’s, including Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who is a member of the ECA committee.
Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano, Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore, Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy and Arsenal managing director Vinai Venkatesham left the annual Premier League meeting early to attend the two-day conference.
It is understood the six clubs are putting on a unified stance as they are convinced the ECA’s proposals would be massively detrimental to the status of the Premier League.
Although others disagree, the belief in England is that there is a limit to the global TV revenue that can be generated through live football and that a bigger Champions League competition would threaten the amount the Premier League could generate as the most lucrative domestic competition in the world.
It is also felt within the English game that many of the issues bothering Agnelli – in particular the fact that next season Ajax must enter the competition in the second qualifying round even though they got within minutes of reaching this season’s final – could be addressed with minor tweaks to the current system.
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There is also a view that, because of a combination of its number of marquee clubs and the competitiveness of the competition, the Premier League has two in-built advantages it would be wrong to disturb.
Agnelli and Ajax executive Edwin van der Sar are due to speak to the media on Friday, before which they will be involved in a number of workshops that will purposely mix Europe’s biggest clubs with some of the smallest in an effort to get a meaningful dialogue about the issues that affect them the most.
“If we want to find solutions for the good of European football we must take a step back and a step above, and try to see things from a different level,” said Agnelli.
“We should try to put ourselves in the shoes of each other and understand what is the best solution going forward.”