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Thursday, September 3, 1998 Published at 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK

Sport: Football

Premiership talks on superleague

Top class football could become a members' only club

Premiership chairmen are meeting in London to discuss the European superleague, and hear from the man behind the £1.25bn plan.

BBC Sports Correspondent Paul Newman reports
Rodolfo Hecht, from the Milan-based consortium Media Partners, wants leading clubs from around Europe to begin an exclusive midweek competition in 2000.

[ image: Rodolfo Hecht:
Rodolfo Hecht: "Added value for the clubs"
The continent's biggest clubs have already been approached, including Manchester United and Arsenal, in England.

Mr Hecht, who is visiting London and will address the meeting, says it will be "a project with no losers", and he is now "more confident than ever" that the project will go ahead as planned.

Rodolfo Hecht puts the case for the Superleague
He said a superleague would generate much higher revenues for clubs, and more quality games for fans to watch.

But opposition has come from fans, European governing body UEFA, and the English Football Association.

Clubs who join up have been told they will be expelled from the Premiership, and their players will not be picked for the England team.

Meanwhile, supporters are planning their own protests.

Ivan Todd of the Campaign Against the Superleague: "It sucks"
Ivan Todd, of the Campaign Against the Superleague, told the BBC: "It is silly really that Rudolfo Hecht has said that this league could benefit the fans.

"We have talked to the fans and the supporters clubs, we have had a unanimous message: the superleague sucks.

"We will wait and see how the clubs respond.

"If they do not listen to us it will be a display of total contempt for supporters opinions."

Attempt to avoid split

One priority for the Premiership is to avoid a divide between bigger and smaller clubs.

[ image: Ivan Todd:
Ivan Todd: "The fans don't want it"
Many are concerned at the impact which any breakaway by Manchester United, Arsenal and possibly Liverpool would have.

United director Peter Kenyon, who has been leading discussions over superleague for the club, says they have nothing to worry about.

He said the meeting is an opportunity to find out more.

"Our position is listen and be objective about it because we think there are overall benefits to every club.

"There will be transparency, clubs will have a direct input into it, more money will be generated for grass-roots soccer and more Premier League clubs will have the opportunity to get into European competition."

He tried to reassure the other clubs: "The key is that we've got a superb domestic league and we're not going to do anything which weakens that."

Opposition based on 'caricature'

UEFA has set up a task force to investigate changes in its own tournaments to prevent the rival league's formation.

[ image: Premiership trophy but will it remain as important a prize?]
Premiership trophy but will it remain as important a prize?
Premier League chief executive Peter Leaver is on that body and will also address the London meeting.

Mr Hecht said the objections are not valid: "The reaction so far has been based on a caricature of the European Football League."

"The reason for that is that the people involved in the project didn't feel in a position to divulge any information until our partners, the clubs, fully understood and supported the concepted.

"Now I'm completely confident we have that support and can continue our dynamic process of creating the league."

Mr Hecht is likely to tell the chairmen today that his competition will be based on the Premiership model, where the clubs own the league, but it is governed by an official body.

In the European league, this would mean UEFA acting in a similar regulatory role to that which the FA currently enjoys with the Premiership.

UEFA has already rejected any form of co-operation.

Mr Hecht also confirmed changes to the plans, which many will see as a watering down.

There would now be two 18-club divisions chosen on sporting merit, although only the lower half would have to qualify each season.

There would also be a knockout 'Pro Cup' involving 96 qualifiers from across Europe.

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