A "war" is threatening to break out in European soccer, with the continent's richest 18 clubs thinking aloud about creating an elite league and critcizing FIFA.
The G14 now denies it wants to create an exclusive league
They call themselves the G14 and are made up of Europe's richest and most storied clubs. Since forming in 2000, the group - since expanded to 18 - has been a permanent thorn in the side of FIFA boss Sepp Blatter.
The volatile Swiss, always good for a quote or two, has refused to bend to G14 demands that FIFA compensate clubs when their players are injured during national team matches. In fact, he refuses to negotiate with them entirely. The Brussels-based lobbying organization's statements timed to a court hearing sent Blatter into a blather.
"If the G14 want war, they will have it," he said.
Scoffing at US-style "entertainment"
French club Charleroi, which is not a member of the G14 but enjoys its support, filed a lawsuit this week against FIFA involving player Abdelmajid Oulmers, who returned from national duty with the Moroccan team injured. The G14, which has supported similar complaint by Olympique Lyon, claims FIFA should compensate clubs when a player is injured. The group has proposed sharing in a percentage of the revenues of tournaments like the World Cup, that will be redistributed to clubs who release their players for international duty.
Blatter is furious
"In principal, G14 could renounce some or all of the past damages, on the basis that all clubs, not just G14 clubs, were protected in the near future," read a G14 statement.
The statements coupled with loud musings of forming a permanent Champion's League, which no team outside of the group would be able to enter, prompted stiff rebuttals from both Blatter and Europe's soccer association, UEFA.
"To them, it's no longer about the sport, but about top entertainment, like in American football, or wrestling," said William Gaillard, the UEFA communications director.
The UEFA argues that competitors in the Champion's League, which always include G14 teams like AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, already earn 415 million euros in television and other revenues by taking part in the competition. After winning last year, Liverpool alone received 30.6 million euros. To Blatter and the UEFA, the G14 stance is further confirmation of their image as profit-hungry spoilers determined to widen the gulf between rich and poor in the "beautiful game".
G14 member Juventus Turin recently negotiated a 108 million euro TV rights deal
"We should invest more in local soccer fields and coming generations rather than give rich clubs even more money," said Michael Platini, the former French soccer star and candidate for UEFA president.
Others have appealed for calm in the high-level spat. Per Ravn Omdal, the vice-president of UEFA, called Blatter's comments "unhelpful and not necessary."
Balance between social, commercial side
Former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Luis Arnaut, who is chairing the EU hearing looking into soccer's role in European Union law, said the G14 had a right to express an opinion.
UEFA's Michael Platini made a plea for smaller clubs
"We certainly don't need this sort of talk at this time," said Arnaut. "We need to star building bridges, not creating bigger ones."
"We need to have a definition of how soccer should be run at all levels from the bottom to the very top," he said. "At one end is a social model, but at the other end it is a business model and this is a very difficult to work with. But we do need to have a balance."