No plans to let Saudi Arabian clubs into Champions League, insists ECA chair | Soccer

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The European Club Association chairman, Nasser al-Khelaifi, has poured cold water on the notion that Saudi Arabian sides are on course to be granted spots in the revamped Champions League.

The rapid growth and formidable spending power of the Saudi Pro League have brought suggestions that a place for its champions will be sought in Europe’s leading competition, which will expand next season to a new “Swiss system” of 36 clubs. Executives from its leading sides are reportedly keen to test the proposition but the influential Khelaifi, who is also the president of Paris St-Germain, emphasised no such move is on the horizon. Khelaifi did, however, leave the door open for stand-alone showpieces, with the Uefa Super Cup an obvious candidate, to take place in the gulf state.

“It is very, very difficult,” he said when asked about the prospect of Saudi clubs being admitted to the table. “Today we are trying to let more European clubs participate in European competition. The smaller and medium clubs want that. I don’t see there are other clubs coming from outside to Europe. I don’t know what is going to happen in a few years but today I don’t see that anyone from outside will play here.

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“If there is a Super Cup or something, why not? But to play in Europe in a competition, if you are not a European [club] … I do not see [it].”

Khelaifi backed the expanded Club World Cup, which will see 12 European sides compete in a 32-club event from 2025, despite concerns about player welfare in a swollen calendar along with an obvious threat to the Champions League’s wealth and prestige. “I am the first one to protect the players for sure,” he said. “But we want to play a competition that’s worth playing in. The Club World Cup, for me, will be one of the biggest events in the world.

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“Clubs are investing a lot in players and infrastructure, we deserve also to have good competition like the Club World Cup. This is amazing, it will be huge. I am a big supporter of the Club World Cup, as are other clubs.”

Khelaifi was speaking after the ECA’s general assembly in Berlin, where Saudi clubs’ financial clout and the lack of assurances about payment of transfer fees came up in discussion behind closed doors. He rejected any idea, though, that European clubs collectively feel an inherent threat from the Saudi wielding of power.

“Most of the clubs sold their players to them so if we are not happy why do we sell our players to them?” he said. “Is it dangerous? If you ask the clubs some of them say yes, some of them say no, some of them happy, some of them unhappy. If there is danger the European clubs will not be quiet. So far, I don’t see any danger.”

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Earlier in the day, Khelaifi had told a press conference the ECA need to “focus on Europe, focus on our clubs”. He was re-elected to his position at a general assembly that also brought Manchester City a place at the continent’s top table. Ferran Soriano, the City chief executive, was voted on to the ECA’s board as the Premier League’s sole representative in a development that will give City a vocal position in the body’s decision-making process.

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Among other new appointments were Martina Pavlova of Sparta Prague and the Olympique Lyon Féminin owner, Michele Kang, who were elected to two board seats reserved for female representatives. Pavlova was also made a vice-chair. Josh Wander, the co-founder of the controversial US investment group 777 Partners which owns Standard Liège, Genoa and the French club Red Star – also holding majority stakes in Hertha Berlin, Melbourne Victory and Vasco da Gama – gained a place on the board, representing the Belgian club.

A general assembly that had been billed as critical for the tone of debate around football’s future was widely hailed a success, even by bodies that have been deeply critical of the ECA. That was largely due to the improvement in solidarity payments, announced on Wednesday, for clubs who do not qualify for the group stages of European competitions.

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