CARDIFF (Reuters) - Real Madrid against Juventus looks like a mouth-watering Champions League final but UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin says he would also love to see some new names fighting it out at the business end of club soccer’s ultimate club competition.
Although this is the first final meeting between the two heavyweights since 1998 they have faced each other in the knockout stages three times since, as well as in another four group-stage games.
That familiarity is to be found throughout the tournament over the last decade or so, with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and City, Borussia Dortmund, Paris St German and a handful of others perennial qualifiers from a group stage that allows the biggest clubs to advance even if they suffer a few slips along the way.
The commercial demands of the game’s big hitters ensures that there will never be a return to the original straight knockout format of the pre-Champions League European Cup but footballing romantics, including Ceferin it seems, might yearn for even some occasional new blood.
Last week Scotland’s Celtic celebrated the 50th anniversary of becoming the first British club to win the European Cup. They beat then-mighty Inter Milan in the final but to get there they overcame FC Zurich, Nantes, FK Vojvodina and Dukla Prague.
Those clubs and dozens more like them can now only dream about being two or three wins away from glory and Ceferin recognises the fact.
”We all know that the gap is wider and wider and we are working with financial fair play to stop it as much as possible,” Ceferin told a news conference after UEFA’s executive committee met in Cardiff on Thursday two days ahead of this year’s final.
”It’s not easy for small clubs to qualify, it’s a big challenge, but it’s still possible. It is far from a closed league.
“Some of the top six or seven clubs were not in the semi-finals this year so it is possible for other clubs, but I do understand that the gap is wider and wider.”
Asked how he would feel about seeing one of the “outsider” clubs going all the way to the final, the Slovenian said: “I would be as excited as you. Leicester (who reached the quarter-finals) was a new name this year but I understand the situation and we are trying to make it possible for some of the small and medium-sized clubs.”
Not everybody, however, is convinced and point to UEFA’s decision last year to offer more guaranteed Champions League places to Europe’s four biggest leagues as evidence of actions speaking louder than words.
The organisation representing Europe’s domestic football leagues (EPFL) revived the idea of a “North Atlantic League” involving clubs from Scotland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia in the face of a threatened breakaway by the biggest clubs but Ceferin said on Thursday that discussions between his organisation and EPFL were at an advanced level.
“We are very close to signing a memorandum of understanding which includes them having representation on the UEFA executive committee,” he said.
The executive committee also agreed on Thursday to continue the “ABBA” experiment which uses a tie-break order in penalty shoot-outs and also with the experimental use of red and yellow cards for team officials and coaches - but made no progress on the implementation of video technology.
Ceferin also announced he was giving his “President’s Award” to Francesco Totti, who retired last week after a remarkable 24-year career with AS Roma, and that UEFA would also be instigating a Hall of Fame.
Editing by Adrian Croft