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FIFA vs. UEFA: Tensions escalate over Club World Cup and Global Nations League

FIFA president Gianni Infantino tells Gab Marcotti about his hopes that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups change negative perceptions of Russia and Qatar.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino discusses the proposed transfer window changes and addresses inequalities within leagues with ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti.

UEFA raised strong objections on Wednesday to what had seemed to be the unstoppable force of FIFA's $25 billion remodelling of world football.

A UEFA Professional Football Strategy Committee meeting in Lyon, France, brought together the representatives of the European football confederation, the European Clubs Association, the European Leagues lobby group and the European division of the world players' association, FIFPro. The key item on the agenda was FIFA's proposal for a 24-team Club World Cup every four years and biennial Global Nations League tournament of international teams.

Gianni Infantino, the FIFA President, has attempted to railroad his plans through, calling for a swift decision to be reached on the matter. The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that in the coming days he will call an extraordinary meeting of the FIFA Council to make a final decision on the proposal. But the response from UEFA was unequivocal.

"The PFSC unanimously expressed serious reservations about the process surrounding the FIFA Club World Cup and Global Nations League proposals," said UEFA in a statement.

"In particular the hasty timing and lack of concrete information. [The Committee] underlined the need for a clearly defined procedure, which respects existing structures and decision-making bodies and which involves all key stakeholders."

The lack of consultation from FIFA on the issue has been stark. Though the FT reports the Japanese tech investor Softbank has attracted financing from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China, the identity of the investors putting up the cash for the new football plans has not formally been revealed. In a letter to FIFA members, Infantino explained his secrecy by saying he is bound by the terms of a confidentiality agreement.

But his decision to eschew the appropriate stakeholder discussions -- when the project would have enormous impact on the international match calendar, at the same time as selling a substantial equity stake in football's elite competitions to unknown third-party investors -- met with strong resistance yesterday.

"Such proposals must be considered as part of a global reflection on the overall international match calendar and cannot be decided upon in isolation," added UEFA in its statement.

Instead, FIFA's strategy has been one of divide and rule. Infantino has wooed individual clubs such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester United and Real Madrid rather than to hold comprehensive dialogue through organised club channels.

His attentions won favour with the board of directors at Camp Nou, which released a statement Tuesday talking of the prospect of an "exciting, inclusive, dynamic, prestigious" Club World Cup revamp. But Josep Maria Bartomeu, the Barcelona president and a member of the PFSC, was unable to carry his peers in support of the moves at Wednesday's Lyon meeting.

FIFA's plans and approach have infuriated senior figures in European club football, who privately warned that old tensions between UEFA and FIFA are on the point of exploding.

"It will erupt," one of those senior figures told ESPN FC.

The cracks are already appearing. Infantino's plans first came to light when he unilaterally presented them to the FIFA Council meeting in Bogota on March 15 and 16. ESPN has learned that 10 days later, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin angrily took his FIFA counterpart to task at the ECA General Assembly meeting they both attended in Rome.

"Ceferin is furious," said a separate source with knowledge of the situation. "There is no alignment between UEFA and FIFA at all.

"FIFA's plans could seriously damage UEFA's Champions League. I don't think people realise the enormity of what this all means for world football."

In a May 11 interview with the German football magazine kicker, Ceferin said: "The players are at the limit. FIFA is behaving strangely, discussing it with a handful of European clubs, only inviting the clubs that FIFA thinks are the only ones who matter.

"The ECA is the association of clubs in Europe, not just seven clubs, do you think that only one club in Germany, two in Spain and two in England are important? FIFA should respect all clubs. "

A third source yesterday raised the prospect of major impacts for domestic football competitions. For several years FIFA has plotted to interfere with the size of national leagues, something Infantino's predecessor, Sepp Blatter, flagged in 2011.

When he first raised that suggestion, Blatter was met with steadfast opposition from the major European leagues, among which only Germany's 18-team Bundesliga does not consist of 20 clubs. But with the temptation of a multibillion-dollar Club World Cup to put before the biggest clubs, where the most successful would reportedly be in line to earn $50m to $85m, it may be that the previously united front might not hold.

For now, though, UEFA has managed to corral its various stakeholders on the PFSC, an indication of the strength of feeling within the European confederation on FIFA's future plans. The matter will now be referred to the UEFA Executive Committee, which meets in Kiev on Thursday May 24.

Also on the PFSC agenda on Wednesday were plans for a new UEFA Licensing Financial Fair Play framework for European club competitions. Under the proposals, which were approved by the PFSC, any club committing to spend in excess of $100m net in any season period must provide UEFA with financial guarantees of their ability to pay.

It will also demand transparent publication of all clubs' financial accounts as well as public clarity on agents' commissions. Player sales between clubs owned through the same umbrella group, such as Manchester City's multinational City Football Group, will be scrutinised for fair value and clubs' debts must be kept proportional to revenue. The new FFP rules will be ratified in Kiev next Thursday.

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