UEFA president says rich-poor divide is key issue in European football

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Preventing the growing gap between the rich clubs and the rest is the key issue in European football, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said on Monday.

The issue came to a head last year when UEFA, with the European Club Association's (ECA) backing, introduced changes to the Champions League which will reduce the number group stage slots allocated to teams from Europe's smaller leagues.

The decision was made amid suggestions that the big clubs were considering a breakaway Super League.

"Let’s put our cards on the table and be honest with ourselves: the biggest challenge over the next few years will be ‘competitive balance’," Ceferin told the ECA general assembly.

"How can we continue to develop football in Europe and avoid widening the huge gulf between the most powerful and the rest? That is the million-dollar question.

"I am a pragmatist; I am open to any practical suggestion that might benefit European football," he added.

Ceferin said he was pleased that he had been able to talk to the ECA about "about ideas such as salary caps, luxury tax, squad limits and even reforming the transfer system" during the last few months.

"If this is the direction we must take, we will," he added.

Ceferin, elected as UEFA president in September after the changes had been approved, admitted they had created "a few misunderstandings and frustrations for some."

The Slovenian lawyer also insisted the UEFA would enforce its breakeven rules known as Financial Fair Play. UEFA's financial control last week began investigating if Paris St Germain's spending spree had fallen foul of the rules.

Brazilian striker Neymar left Barcelona to join PSG last month after the French side triggered his 222 million euros ($264 million) release clause and the record-breaking fees are unlikely to fall in the near future, agent and transfer market expert Esteve Calzada told Reuters.

"UEFA’s credibility and that of football rests on us ensuring that the rules that are in force are respected. Nobody is above the law," Ceferin said.

ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who will step aside on Tuesday after deciding not to seek re-election, said "everyone will benefit" from the reform of European club competitions.

"The small ones understand the big ones, and the big ones bear responsibility for the small ones,” said the former West Germany international. “The reform of the European club competitions has proven this again.”

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