By Tim Hanlon
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona vice president Javier Faus has called for the expansion of the Champions League as well as the reduction of national top flights by up to four clubs.
UEFA has considered increasing the size of the Champions League proper to 64 clubs from 32 clubs following demands from Europe's top sides, who see clear financial rewards of facing each other on a more regular basis.
While Atletico Madrid are bucking the trend as they lead La Liga, the growing distance between the rich and the poor in football has been particularly stark in Spain and there has been a lack of competition for Barca and Real Madrid.
"We want to see the Champions League expanded and at the same time national leagues should be reduced from 20 clubs down to 18 or even maybe 16," Faus told Reuters.
However, he believes having just one European league for the big clubs is a step too far.
"We are not in favor of national leagues being eliminated as they are at the center of fans' hearts and I can't imagine that ever happening," he added.
Part of the reason for the disparity in Spanish football, where many clubs are heavily in debt and have been forced to sell their top players, is the share of television rights.
Unlike the English Premier League and other top divisions where there is collective bargaining, Spanish clubs are allowed to negotiate their own deals with Barcelona and Real Madrid taking home 50 percent of the money.
"It is something that will change. Barca are leading a group of 30 or so clubs that want to have television rights consolidated into a pool like in the UK or Germany so as to have a more balanced distribution and make the league more competitive," said Faus.
In the past, however, Barca have stated that they are not prepared to make financial concessions.
"It is something that would help us all but we shouldn't forget that the interest in Spanish football around the world is because of Barca and Real Madrid," he added.
"There will be a new distribution within the next year or two and we will have it in place by 2016.
"We are continuing to speak to other clubs, the league and the government. We are all on the same page, there are only a few differences."
Faus and Lionel Messi clashed late last year, with the Argentina forward saying the vice president knew "nothing about football" following comments about the player not needing a new deal.
The pair have smoothed over their differences and Faus again sounded a different tune.
"In the coming days or months we will arrange a new deal with Lionel Messi," he said.
"He is the best player in the world and so he deserves to be treated that way and paid best."
Last month Sandro Rosell stood down as Barca president over a lack of clarity over Neymar's transfer deal last year. His successor Josep Bartomeu said the fee was 86.2 million euros ($116.53 million), rather than the 57.1 million previously stated, after including other payments to the player and his family.
While Barca continue to pay off their debt which now stands at 330 million euros and plan a Nou Camp revamp, Faus said they remain competitive in the transfer market and with player salaries despite being up against clubs owned by wealthy foreign investors.
"We are one of the last clubs owned by the fans and there are no millionaires, sheikhs or American tycoons behind us. It is difficult and challenging but we are trying to maintain it," he said.
"We have been on the same line for the past four or so years where we have 50 or 60 million euros to spend each season on transfers and we don't want to go beyond that.
"The challenge with sponsorship and marketing is not to lose your identity. It is one of our main concerns but at the same time we need to pay top players what they deserve." ($1 = 0.7397 euros)
(Editing by Mark Meadows; To sign up for our Global Sports Forum chatroom, click on https://forms.thomsonreuters.com/global_sports_forum)
- Sports & Recreation
- Champions League
- Real Madrid
- Atletico Madrid
- Lionel Messi