Premier League and UEFA to meet for talks on fixture clashes
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin will meet Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore "very soon" to discuss how to avoid clashes between European club fixtures and games in England's top flight.
Relations between UEFA and many domestic leagues in Europe have become strained in recent months, with many of the smaller nations angry that the four biggest leagues, including the Premier League, have secured four places each in the Champions League group stage from 2018 to 2021.
But the Premier League has annoyed UEFA by scheduling Stoke's rearranged visit to Manchester City last month on the same evening as two last-16 games in the Champions League, including Barca's 6-1 win over Paris St-Germain.
In his speech to open UEFA's 41st congress in Helsinki on Wednesday, Ceferin said: "To some leagues, I shall say it calmly and dispassionately, but firmly and resolutely: we will never give in to the blackmail of those who think they can manipulate small leagues or impose their will on the associations because they think they are all powerful on account of the astronomical revenues they generate."
The former Slovenian FA boss also warned "some clubs" that "there will be no closed league" and - in a thinly-veiled reference to recent comments from European Club Association chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge - he said "clubs are not the only ones that care about football".
He added: " I won't lie, of course we also care about financial aspects, but only to be able to share more with the clubs and with the national associations in order to develop football everywhere around Europe."
Asked by reporters at the end of the congress if he was talking about the Premier League when he mentioned "blackmail", Ceferin said: "I will not go more concrete now but I think the ones I referred to understood the message.
"The important thing is that nobody can blackmail us and if we want to cooperate and do something good for football we have to sit at the same table and discuss it."
When pushed on how he feels about Premier League games in the same time slots as UEFA competitions, he said: " I don't like it (but) I'm having a meeting with Mr Scudamore very soon and I'm sure that we will come to an agreement.
"Maybe sometimes - I hope rarely - it may be impossible to play at different times but in principle we have to have an agreement about that and I think it's important also for the Premier League."
Ceferin, who was elected as UEFA president in September with a large mandate from Europe's smaller and medium-sized football nations, has never met Scudamore and is willing to travel to London to do so.
He is likely to be told that UEFA has made it increasingly hard to avoid fixture clashes by spreading the latter stages of the Champions League and Europa League over more weeks.
Ceferin, however, is also keen to keep talking to Rummenigge and the European Professional Football Leagues about a new memorandum of understanding between the clubs and leagues on one side, and UEFA on the other. The most recent deal expired last week and domestic leagues could schedule games against UEFA competitions if they wished, although that is considered unlikely.
Speaking to reporters in Helsinki, the influential ex-Manchester United chief executive David Gill said: "There's a lot of sabre-rattling at the moment but I think common sense will prevail.
" For UEFA to have great competitions it needs thriving leagues to produce the teams, so I think there will be a sensible solution but that will unfold over the next few months."
Gill, a FIFA vice-president, was speaking shortly after his re-election to UEFA's executive committee, where he will be joined for the first time by Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney.
The pair were among 11 candidates up for election, with eight seats up for grabs. Delaney received the second highest number of votes with 48, two fewer than Sweden's Karl-Erik Nilsson, while Gill came sixth with 40 votes from UEFA's 55 member associations.
But Football Association of Wales vice-president Kieran O'Connor, a relative newcomer to European football politics, was unsuccessful in his bid for an ExCo place, finishing last with only 11 votes.
The five other successful candidates were former Juventus and Poland star Zbigniew Boniek, German FA president Reinhard Grindel, Italian FA director Michele Uva, Dutch FA president Michael van Praag and Turkey's Servet Yardimci. They will serve four-year terms.
Delaney's elevation in status within European football comes only a day after the Republic of Ireland's women's team threatened to strike, claiming they have been forced to get changed in public toilets and share tracksuits with men's junior teams.
But the 49-year-old, who is already one of the best paid officials in European football, refused to answer questions from journalists about the stand-off.
The congress also unanimously approved Ceferin's governance reforms which include term limits for ExCo members and the rule that every member should play an active role in the national association they represent.
In response to Ceferin's remarks, a Premier League spokesman said a statement released prior to the Manchester City-Stoke game four weeks ago still applied.
It said: "The Premier League does not seek to arrange matches on the same dates as UEFA but the challenges of the fixture list occasionally make it unavoidable.
"UEFA itself has exacerbated the fixture challenges that English football faces, taking more Champions League and Europa League dates over the years while our competitions have remained the same."