Europe’s top clubs reach agreement with UEFA

Europe’s top football clubs have reached a new cooperation
agreement with UEFA to give them a bigger share of European
Championship profits and insure salaries for players injured on
international duty.

The European Club Association said on Tuesday that the renewed
accord runs through May 2018 – expiring days before the World Cup
kicks off in Russia – but ”unsatisfactory” talks with FIFA were
locked in stalemate.

ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge announced the ”major
breakthrough” with UEFA at a meeting of the 200-club group in
Warsaw, Poland.

”The negotiations have not always proved easy, but were always
conducted in a fair and respectful manner,” Rummenigge said in a
statement, praising UEFA President Michel Platini. ”Unfortunately,
discussions with the FIFA president have failed to lead to a
satisfactory outcome which takes account of the clubs’
demands.”

Rummenigge later said there was time to work on extending the
ECA’s deal with FIFA. It expires after the 2014 World Cup in
Brazil.

”We can be relaxed and patient. I am not a pessimist,” the
former West Germany great said.

FIFA said it was ”surprised” at the European clubs’
negotiating stance.

”FIFA remains, as always, willing to discuss with ECA on these
topics, as it does with all other stakeholders in the world
football community,” the governing body said in a statement.

The ECA was created in 2008 to give clubs a more democratic
voice in talks with UEFA and FIFA after years of hostile relations
when elite clubs were represented by the G-14 group which
threatened to form a breakaway European league.

However, talks to renew the ECA’s initial working agreements
have exposed problems between Rummenigge and FIFA President Sepp
Blatter over insurance policies and the number of fixtures on the
FIFA-approved international calendar, when clubs are obliged to
release their players to national teams.

The ECA has focused more on relations with UEFA and Platini, who
is the favorite to succeed Blatter at FIFA in 2015.

European clubs will share a ”substantially increased” sum on
the ?55 million ($74 million) previously agreed from Euro 2012
profits, which is distributed on a daily rate for as long as
players are involved in the tournament co-hosted by Poland and
Ukraine.

”This amount will be substantially increased in time for this
year’s Euro with a further increase for the UEFA Euro 2016 in
France,” the clubs said. The exact increase will be announced at
the UEFA Congress held on March 22 in Istanbul.

Before Euro 2012, UEFA will fund ”insurance covering the injury
risk of players” who European clubs release to play for any
national team.

”This insurance is valid for all players registered with a
European club, irrespective of their nationality, and for all
matches mentioned in the international calendar, including both
official and friendly matches,” the ECA said.

The issue of insurance was highlighted after Rummenigge’s club
Bayern Munich lost Netherlands winger Arjen Robben for six months
when he returned injured from the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA shared $40 million (?30 million) among clubs whose players
were selected to go to South Africa, and has allocated $70 million
(?52 million) for the 2014 tournament.

Under the new accord, UEFA agreed that ”no decision relating to
club football will be taken without the consent of the clubs,” the
ECA said.

This point helps remove the threat of clubs refusing to play in
UEFA’s marquee Champions League, or set up a rival competition.

”This is once more a proof that, in the European football
family, solutions can be found in a cooperative and fair way,”
Rummenigge said.

Rummenigge and ECA general secretary Michele Centenaro have
refused FIFA’s invitations to attend international calendar talks
in Zurich next Monday.

Still, the clubs have had input through UEFA to the debate
involving all six of FIFA’s continental confederations.

European football would accept nine doubleheader international
match dates in each two-year tournament qualifying cycle, and wants
friendly dates in February and August abolished.

The ECA said on Tuesday it wants to restrict players to one
international tournament each year, which could limit call-ups to
the London Olympics.

Europe also wants the Copa America to finish in mid-July, and
the African Cup of Nations to start earlier in January so that
players return sooner to their clubs.

FIFA said its calendar working group could present a proposal
for international match dates running from 2015 through 2018 or
2022 to Blatter’s executive committee which meets on March 29-30 in
Zurich.

FIFA reminded Europe’s clubs that ”the international match
calendar (has) to be applied on a worldwide basis and that this
calendar is ultimately regulated by FIFA.”

Associated Press writer Vanessa Gera contributed to this report
from Warsaw, Poland.