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By ESPN Staff

G14 to double in size by end of the year?

BRUSSELS, May 17 (Reuters) - The G14, which represents 18 of Europe's most powerful clubs, hopes to double in size by the end of the year and open its doors to clubs across the continent, general manager Thomas Kurth said on Thursday.

The decision was made at a board meeting in Glasgow on Wednesday during which Olympique Lyon chairman Jean-Michel Aulas was elected as G14 president following the departure of former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein.

'Aulas was only elected after achieving a commitment from all the clubs to the principle of enlargement,' Kurth told Reuters.

'We hope to expand to double our membership by the end of the year.'

Set up in 2000 to give its clubs a greater say in how the game is run, the G14 admitted four further members in 2002.

It has since become embroiled in a battle with soccer's governing bodies over issues such as compensation for players injured whilst on international duty and the international calendar. This has led to a number of court actions.

The formation of a pan-European or a wider international group was discussed during a meeting in May 2006 hosted by the G14 and attended by 25 other clubs from Europe, Africa and Latin America, sources told Reuters at the time.

'It had been discussed before and there was much sympathy towards expansion. But nothing happened, but now it definitely will,' Kurth said.

He would not be drawn on possible new members of the G14, which includes Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus and has been accused in the past of being elitist and only representing the interests of big clubs.

'We will outline the criteria in the coming months, one of which is already agreed and that is in sporting excellence. But this will be a balanced and geographical expansion and nobody will be excluded,' Kurth said.

Sporting excellence will be based mainly on a club's performance in European competition and will take into account their UEFA club ranking, he added.

'But if a club has a geographical advantage, this could compensate for a poor ranking,' he said, adding that G14 had around 20 applications of interest in joining since its formation.

Kurth said Chelsea would meet all the criteria if they chose to apply for membership.

Sources within the G14 told Reuters that Chelsea had indicated their preference to join. But one said that some clubs, most noteably Arsenal and Manchester United 'felt uncomfortable with the idea'.

Another source said Celtic, who attended the meeting in May last year, and their Old Firm rivals Rangers are 'towards the top of the pile', while others believed to be in the frame include Red Star Belgrade and Galatasaray.