A major row is brewing in European football over club representation at the highest level – with the elite club body telling its members, which include prominent Premier League clubs, they cannot sign with a new breakaway union.
The European Club Association (ECA), run by Paris St-Germain chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, has told its members that they are prohibited from joining the newly formed Union of European Clubs (UEC) – which has recruited clubs that feel disenfranchised by Uefa and the ECA.
Among those Premier League clubs sympathetic to the UEC are Aston Villa, Brentford, Crystal Palace and Brighton, as well as Watford in the Championship. The Shakhtar Donetsk chief executive Sergei Palkin has also backed the UEC as a voice for the clubs outside the elite. Shakhtar, an ECA member, have played in the Champions League group stages for the last 13 years.
The ECA is the strongest lobbying voice when it comes to change at Uefa, the sharing of the wealth Uefa’s club competitions generate and its reorganisation, including the Champions League, from the start of the 2024-2025 season. Al-Khelaifi is a crucial ally for Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin in the wake of the European Super League breakaway in 2021. The strength of the ECA’s influence is such that they co-own a joint venture with Uefa to distribute the broadcast and commercial earnings from Uefa club competitions.
Yet many clubs believe that the ECA only represents the interests of the most powerful. The ECA has 245 member clubs across all 55 Uefa nations. All ordinary members, as they are described by the ECA, must be a part of their respective nation’s top-flight and admitted on a four-year cycle, the latest of which begins this summer. Only the 16 founders have permanent membership regardless of their status, and from Britain they include only Manchester United, Chelsea and Rangers.
In a letter to its members, seen by Telegraph Sport, the ECA said that its recently signed agreement with Fifa included a clause that clubs cannot be members of two European representative bodies. It described the UEC’s objectives as “unclear and ambiguous”. The ECA said that “fragmentation of club representation would undermine the strength of collective action” and that it would “not serve the best interests” of clubs.
The ECA is currently negotiating with Uefa for the clubs’ share of revenue from next year’s European Championships for clubs and also with Fifa for the first expanded Fifa Club World Cup in 2025. It says that for it to be an effective representative in negotiations there cannot be competing club bodies.
A spokesman for the ECA said: “This is not new. ECA’s statutes have been clear since its formation and our membership continues to grow and diversify. It’s also not new that Uefa and Fifa formally recognise ECA as the sole representative body of European clubs at European level – which is crucial for clubs to stand as a strong and unified stakeholder voice in European and International football.
“Ultimately it’s very simple – ECA membership is voluntary, but sole membership is fundamental to achieving our goals. If a club wants to join a group like A22 [the management company advising the European Super League rebels Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus], UEC or whoever is next, they will not be able to be a member of ECA.”
Dennis Gudasic, one of the co-founders of the UEC, said that smaller clubs were joining his union because they felt ECA did not represent them. He said recent UEC visits to Ukraine and Romania had seen unanimous votes in favour of joining UEC from the two countries’ domestic top-flights.
Gudasic, chief executive of Lokomotiva Zagreb, said that “The system is heavily weighted in favour of the elite clubs”. He said: “Uefa has distributed €22 billion in prize money in the last 25 years and €7 billion of that has gone to just 12 clubs. Those are the Super League clubs and even after getting all that it was not enough for them. Fifty clubs have received 74 per cent of this money and 100 clubs have got 96 per cent. Those are the facts. But Uefa didn’t create their competitions for the biggest of the elite group of clubs.
“All those 1,000 or so clubs in Europe who are not ECA members should be able to organise themselves. If they want to be a member of ECA as well as UEC we don’t have a problem with that. The reason we find it [ECA letter] concerning is that they are trying to project a message that Uefa are opposed to clubs joining UEC. Uefa haven’t issued any statement”
He added: “If you have one body then it should be one club, one vote. There’s a contradiction [about ECA]. They want to maintain a dominant position and say they are the only representative body. But on the other hand you are not allowing all to join the organisation.”