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Europe's elite scupper FIFA's new plans

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By PA Sport

Last Updated: 15/03/19 2:37pm

Gianni Infantino had hopes of launching a revamped Club World Cup in 2021

Europe's top clubs have scuppered FIFA boss Gianni Infantino's hopes of launching a revamped Club World Cup in 2021 by telling him they will not take part in the competition.

The stark message comes in a letter to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin from the European Club Association, which represents 232 of the continent's leading teams, and was sent via email on Tuesday, three days before a crucial meeting of FIFA's ruling council in Miami on Friday.

The letter reminds Ceferin that the ECA "is unwilling to consider any new or significantly revised competition prior to a holistic assessment" of the international match calendar, which has been agreed until 2024.

Ceferin, however, did not really need reminding of this as he and the ECA are in complete agreement in their anger at how Infantino has gone about this attempt to rewrite the football calendar.

But this letter will enable the Slovenian, who is also a FIFA vice-president, to tell FIFA that there can be no new money-spinner in 2021 without the game's biggest stars.

Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is among those who have signed the letter

Infantino has been trying to get approval for his new Club World Cup for a year and it had seemed he was inching closer to victory this week, as German FA boss and FIFA Council member Reinhard Grindel said he backed the idea - a sign that Europe's opposition was splintering.

The current seven-team competition is held every winter but is largely ignored in Europe, football's largest market, and FIFA is desperate to breathe new life into the event and earn more money to distribute throughout the game.

The FIFA plan has evolved slightly since Infantino first mentioned it at a FIFA Council meeting in Colombia last year but the latest idea is for 24 teams - eight from Europe, six from South America, three each from Africa, Asia and North and Central America and one from Oceania - to play in a pilot tournament that could be worth £50m to each club.

But despite that, Europe's elite are unmoved and the language of the letter, which has been signed by Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, Celtic's Peter Lawwell and the bosses of Ajax, Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG, is implacable.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has also signed the letter

Using phrases such as "much to our disappointment" and "utter disregard", the ECA strongly criticises FIFA for failing to consult with the clubs properly, with the 'Taskforce' that was set up to resolve Europe's concerns not letting the clubs discuss the congested international match calendar or examine Infantino's financial plans.

On the issue of the calendar, the ECA stance could not be clearer, as it points out the proposal to stage a pilot tournament in June 2021 would "result in the following uninterrupted sequence of competitions": national and UEFA club competitions until the end of May, an international window including the UEFA Nations League finals, an 18-day Club World Cup from June 17-July 4, the Africa Cup of Nations and CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, and then the new domestic seasons.

"In proposing this calendar...FIFA confirms that the protection and well-being of players and the vital interests of clubs are not a priority for football's world governing body at this stage," it said.

This places the clubs on the same side of the argument as world players' union FIFPro, which made its opposition to the FIFA plan public on Wednesday.

The ECA is also annoyed that Infantino's other great plan from 12 months ago, a global Nations League, has not been completely killed off, despite no real enthusiasm for it from anywhere.

And it is scathing about FIFA's refusal to reveal more details on who its financial backers are for the new tournaments, although it is widely believed to be investors from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

FIFA's failure to "provide any meaningful information" on the proposal to sell 49 per cent of the new events - in a 12-year deal is "perturbing" and inconsistent with its "stated objectives to modernise" and operate in an "open and transparent manner", the ECA said.

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