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Union of European Clubs aims to 'give smaller clubs a voice'

April 29, 2023

Launched in Brussels this week, the Union of European Clubs is aiming to redress the balance in European football's corridors of power. Which clubs are involved and what do they hope to achieve?

Stuttgart fans cheering with megaphones and drums
The Union of European Clubs aims 'to give a voice to 92% of professional football clubs'Image: Pressefoto ULMER/Markus Ulmer/picture alliance /

For the 1,400 people who saw the tweet, the Union of European Clubs' (UEC) position on the big issues facing football governance in Europe were clear about four months before the group's official launch.

Back in December 2022, the UEC's Twitter account, set up two years earlier, posted only its second tweet. In it, the UEC welcomed the European Court of Justice's appraisal that European soccer governing body UEFA's regulations preventing the creation of a European Super League (ESL) were indeed compatible with European law.

"Should the court follow [this] opinion, it would be a victory for the small and mid-sized clubs in Europe, and all other stakeholders in European football," read the tweet, in clear opposition to those clubs still pushing for an ESL, namely Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus.

On February 9, the UEC posted a third tweet, this time attacking A22, the sports marketing agency lobbying in favor of the ESL.

"A22 has launched a PR campaign to help sway the court's decision in favour of [a] Super League, gain public support, and hijack control of European football," they said. "They are using other clubs to push through the [Super League] project that failed in 2019 & 2021, and that will destroy domestic football."

Union of European Clubs: a counterweight to the ECA

This week, the UEC finally emerged from the online world for an official launch event in Brussels. Present at the in-person and online event were representatives from 103 smaller and medium-sized clubs. The new group's stated purpose: "to give a voice to 92% of professional football clubs" which the UEC feels are excluded from top-level decision-making in European football.

"Lack of representation of non-elite clubs at institutional level has led to significant erosion in football, benefiting only elite clubs and harming the true heart of football," read an official press release.

"Europe has more than 1,500 professional football clubs, the vast majority have no international platform nor any representation with key institutions such as UEFA or the European Union. By giving a voice to the true heart of European football the UEC aims to create a fairer and more sustainable football ecosystem."

Currently, the only UEFA-recognized body officially representing the interests of clubs is the European Club Association (ECA), chaired by Paris Saint-Germain President Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who also sits on UEFA's Executive Committee alongside ECA Honorary Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The committee is dominated by a handful of the Continent's biggest clubs, 12 of which were complicit in the 2021 Super League coup.

Now, the Union of European Clubs is aiming to act as a counterweight.

Medium-sized clubs such as Shakhtar Donetsk in favor

"It is crucial that small and medium-sized clubs gain a voice," said UEC founder Dennis Gudasic, executive director of Zagreb's Lokomotiva FC in Croatia. "Over the past decades football has become increasingly a game of the elite. The UEC fills a massive void and will champion the interests of the clubs that form the foundation of European football."

Another UEC representative told German broadcaster Sportschau: "We want to fill a gap in the structure of European football. More than 90% of clubs, mainly outside the elite, aren't represented. The UEC will give these clubs a voice."

One of those clubs, Shakhtar Donetsk, has felt particularly ostracized since FIFA's decision to suspend player and coaching contracts following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, claiming it has cost the club over €40m ($42.5) in lost transfer revenues.

"I believe that this organization will support the small and medium clubs and put them all together at one table," CEO Sergei Palkin told the online sports site The Athletic. "I feel that a lot of attention is on the big 25 clubs, almost all of them are represented. They always support just the big clubs and this is the biggest problem. But without the small clubs, there is no football. It will be finished completely."

Among the club representatives present at the launch in Brussels this week were English Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Watford, Brentford, Aston Villa and Brighton, plus Bundesliga clubs Borussia Mönchengladbach, VfB Stuttgart, Werder Bremen and VfL Bochum.

Spain's La Liga was represented by FC Sevilla, but also by League President Javier Tebas, an outspoken critic of the Super League clubs as well as clubs backed by sovereign wealth funds.

"The Super League wanted to restructure football, but there are also others, in this case the ECA," he opined in Brussels. "If we don't get a reaction from the other clubs, we'll be facing a catastrophe for the national leagues."

Nasser Al-Al-Khelaifi and Lionel Messi - Lionel Messi (right) and PSG President Nasser Al-Al-Khelaifi hold Messi's jersey
PSG President and ECA Chairman Al-Khelaifi is dismissive of the UECImage: Francois Mori/AP Photo/picture alliance

ECA Chairman Al-Khelaifi dismissive

In a move seen by some as a preemptive measure to make membership of the new UEC less appealing, the ECA expanded its membership in March to consist of 330 member clubs, including 140 fully franchised "ordinary members" and 190 "associated members" with restricted voting rights.

ECA Chairman Al-Khelaifi has also talked down the new organization, saying, rather counter-intuitively: "I've not heard much about it, is it a new sort of A22?" and insisting: "We're the only club representation recognized by UEFA and FIFA."

ECA Chief Executive Officer Charlie Marshall chose irony, telling CBS: "It's nice to see that Crystal Palace, a club with revenues 200 times greater than those of an equivalent club in the Croatian league, are doing their best to close the gap between the richest and poorest clubs in Europe."

With the UEC's official launch, the next stage of the political battle over the future direction of European football has moved from social media into the real world.

Edited by James Thorogood

DW Matthew Ford Sports
Matt Ford Reporter and editor for DW Sports specializing in European football, fan culture & sports politics.@matt_4d