THE Prem big guns have often been accused of self-interest.
Not for themselves but for the rest of English football so that the League Cup does not die.
Because if the European Clubs Association and Uefa get their way by increasing the number of Champions League games there will be no room for England’s secondary cup competition.
The Premier League’s 20 clubs stood firm against the initial proposals hatched by the ECA to ring-fence a European elite of clubs.
But instead, the ECA have forged an alliance with Uefa to come up with new proposals, which they are now busy selling across the whole of Europe.
Ahead of next month’s meeting of the ECA member clubs in Geneva, a short taxi ride from Uefa’s Nyon headquarters, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli and his lieutenants are pushing the latest vision.
They still want four groups of eight in the new Champions League, meaning 14 games in the initial phase, 21 to win it.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE REVAMP
Now, though, the top five in each group will be invited back for the following season, along with the winners of a play-off round involving the teams that finish sixth and seventh.
There is an agreed principle, demanded by English clubs, that domestic performances must be the gateway to Europe.
So, while European results will earn a place in the pyramid, clubs still have to qualify through their domestic achievements.
That is not an issue in most of Europe.
Borussia Dortmund, Inter, Atletico Madrid and Lyon will be confident of making their league’s top four every season.
But in England, where six into four can never go, the competitive element will remain.
MORE MONEY AT STAKE
In addition, the Europa League will see 24 teams with a chance of knockout football, and automatic promotion for the semi-finalists.
With Europa League 2 regionalised, it means more games for more clubs — and extra money. Even so, the Prem clubs have not been bought off. They know that more money for Europe means less for the Prem.
The global TV and sponsorship pot is getting smaller, not increasing.
More crucially, they realise that extra European matches will force them to sacrifice elsewhere. The Carabao Cup would be the first casualty.
A stack more Champions League games, on top of 38 Prem matches and the FA Cup.
The clubs simply will not be able to play the Carabao Cup as well. And without the Big Six, what is that competition worth?
It would even put the FA Cup under question as well.
This is part of a longer battle.
Last season’s remarkable full house of Champions League and Europa League finalists only underlined those gripes.
The ECA had begun plotting before that. Agnelli envisaged more weekend dates, to grow the worldwide TV audience, ignoring the consequences for domestic leagues.
Germany’s Bundesliga and La Liga in Spain joined forces with the Prem, insisting they would not lose their weekend football.
The smaller leagues, offered more access through a revised version of the Europa League 2 concept to be introduced from 2021, were reluctant to jump aboard.
Agnelli retreated, re-thought. Along with Paris Saint-Germain chief, Qatari Nasser Al-Khelaifi, he is on Uefa’s executive committee with a huge influence on European football’s boss, Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin.
Uefa believed they could not hold back the tide. They needed to divert it, channelling the principles into ideas that might be passed.
While part of Uefa’s plans include giving more money to Europe’s smaller sides, Prem clubs have even suggested taking that out of the Champions League pot, rather than forcing the planned changes through.
Without English clubs, it is a no-goer. The Prem teams know that. For now, their resistance is strong.
If any of them weaken, though, seduced by the possible wealth, there will be nothing to protect those further down the English ladder.