Top club coaches want Europa League to survive
NYON, Switzerland (AP) -- Coaches of Europe's top football clubs want the Europa League to survive beyond the 2014-15 season.
There are suggestions UEFA's second-tier club competition will be under threat when its existing three-year television contracts expire. That proposal would allow the more popular and lucrative Champions League to be increased from a 32-team to a 64-team group stage.
"I believe that the new Europa League is improving from year to year and you have to give it time,'' Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger said Thursday.
Wenger spoke after UEFA hosted an annual two-day meeting of elite club coaches to discuss issues in European football. Jose Mourinho from Real Madrid and Carlo Ancelotti of Paris Saint-Germain were among about 20 coaches attending.
UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh said they agreed that European football needs the two club competitions.
"If we only had the one competition we don't feel as if it would be a strong enough environment,'' he said.
Giving clubs incentives to qualify for the Europa League through domestic leagues, and in some cases national knockout cups, is sustaining interest in the sport, Roxburgh said.
Wenger noted that UEFA once ran three continental club competitions. The European Cup Winners' Cup was scrapped in 1999, and national cup winners then entered the UEFA Cup, which itself was rebranded into the current Europa League format in 2009.
The Arsenal coach, who has guided his team into the Champions League groups for 15 straight seasons, said the Europa League presented high-quality football.
"You saw the level of Atletico Madrid in the Super Cup,'' Wenger said, referring to the Europa League title-holder's 4-1 victory over Champions League winner Chelsea last Friday.
Still, prize money funded by the Champions League's television and commercial contracts far outweigh those in the second-tier competition.
Chelsea collected ?59.9 million ($75.7 million) from UEFA last season, while Atletico Madrid picked up only ?10.5 million ($13.3 million). For the 2012-15 cycle, the Champions League is worth about ?1.3 billion ($1.64 billion) per season and helps subsidize the Europa League, which has attracted just one-fifth of the revenue.
"The Champions League is the benchmark competition (of world football),'' Roxburgh said. "But the Europa League was one that everybody felt was worthwhile, worth its place and - as Arsene said - improving.''
UEFA will have "ongoing discussions'' about potential changes to the club competitions, and will "examine them in more detail,'' Roxburgh said.
Coaches were briefed by Pierluigi Collina, the head of UEFA's refereeing program, about the five-officials system that is now standard in UEFA competitions.
Wenger said the coaches were impressed by how referees worked together with assistants placed beside each goal.
"What was surprising to us is how much they communicate and how intense the communications is,'' he said.
Wenger reiterated his support for UEFA President Michel Platini's "Financial Fair Play'' rules designed to control clubs' reckless spending on transfer fees and player wages.
UEFA will require clubs to aim toward breaking even on their football-related business, rather than rely on bailouts from wealthy owners, if they want to be entered in the Champions League and Europa League.
"We should just get the resources we generate,'' Wenger said, on the day that Premier League clubs met to discuss introducing a similar national scheme in England. "The number of fans a club has all over the world - that, to me, dictates the real dimension of a football club.''
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