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PSV's Harry van Raaij
"Celtic are very interested - we'll meet again in February"
 real 28k

Sunday, 16 January, 2000, 20:49 GMT
Celtic back Atlantic breakaway

PSV Eindhoven celebrate the 1988 European Cup

The big domestic leagues of European football may soon have a new competitor for continental television audiences.

A Dutch plan for an Atlantic League is being backed by Scottish giants Celtic.

It would give clubs from smaller countries a more competitive arena in which to play domestic football.

Scotland's Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic, and the Dutch big three would take part against two clubs each from Belgium and Portugal, and some from Scandinavia.

Proposed members
"And three or so clubs from Scandinavia"
The idea's backers believe it would give members a more realistic chance of knocking giants like Juventus, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United off the top of European football.

PSV Eindhoven president Harry van Raaij says if it does not happen, clubs from Italy, England, Spain and Germany will dominate.

And that means former European champions like his own club, Celtic, Ajax, Feyenoord and Benfica have no chance of returning to the top.

Celtic's European hopes were ended by Lyon this season
"The bigger clubs in smaller countries will come to a position when they cannot compete with the bigger clubs from the bigger countries," Van Raaij told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"We are planning to meet each other in order to investigate the possibilities to improve our position in Europe."

Celtic's chief executive Allan McDonald describes the domestic Scottish game as a "bankrupt" hindrance to the Bhoys' plans to compete on the international stage.

"In world and European terms, we have to face the fact that we are a long way behind," he told supporters' website Bhoyzone.

He compared Celtic's plight with the other big fish who are swimming around in smaller European ponds.

"The major clubs in those countries find that they have little in the way of competition to attract audiences, and that prevents clubs with ambition and huge fanbases from realising their potential."

Proposed structure
Atlantic League at top of overall structure incorporating premier leagues of smaller nations
Top five teams enter Champions League
"Potential promotion through league winning play-offs," according to Celtic
The plan would almost certainly be opposed by smaller Scottish clubs, who rely heavily on the income generated by their league clashes with the Old Firm giants.

McDonald admits his support for the concept makes him an unpopular figure in Scottish football, but insists it is a reality.

"We see the Atlantic league as a way of attracting larger TV audiences, and of increasing our revenue.

"But more importantly it is an opportunity to get a better level of competition than we get at the moment, and a bigger stage to play our football on.

"In turn that will help us to attract better players, which in turn provides better entertainment for our fans."

But in the Netherlands, Van Raaij believes recent developments mean the smaller clubs simply cannot compete themselves with their wealthier domestic opponents.

He says television revenues of Champions League clubs like PSV or Feyenoord are "eight to ten times more" than the other sides in the Dutch first division.

Van Raaij also says there is widespread support around Europe's smaller countries for the idea, despite the extra travelling time and the lack of a common history between the participants.

Atlantic meeting: PSV and Benfica met in the 1988 European Cup final
"I have spoken with Ajax, Feyenoord, Porto, Rangers and Celtic," he said. "They are interested, especially Celtic who are very interested."

A meeting to discuss the plan is scheduled for February, although Van Raaij believes 2002 is the earliest possible start date.

The PSV president also admitted that European governing body Uefa would also have to be consulted about the matter, although McDonald says time is limited.

"The problem is that the pace of change is so fast at the moment in Europe," he explained.

"There is a circle of success, and there is one of failure," he added.

"The moment Celtic fans become disillusioned with the lack of success, and stop supporting the team in the numbers they do, we are in that circle of failure, because we need revenue to achieve success."

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See also:
04 Nov 99 |  Football
Celts fail to tame Lyon challenge
21 Oct 99 |  Champions League
Mols puts Rangers top

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