UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin on Friday hit out at criticism of Paris Saint-Germain and defended clubs who threaten football’s traditional elite, pointedly telling AFP that “things change” in an interview ahead of this weekend’s Champions League final.
Real Madrid and Liverpool meet in the final for the second time in five years in Paris on Saturday, with the Spanish club looking to put their disappointment at missing out on the signature of Kylian Mbappe by winning a record-extending 14th European Cup.
Mbappe had long been expected to sign for Real before agreeing a new three-year contract at PSG, prompting La Liga president Javier Tebas to call the French club “an insult to football”.
But Ceferin, president of European football’s governing body since 2016, encouraged Tebas to mind his own business.
“I absolutely don’t agree” with the criticism, he said, speaking in the French capital.
“There are anyway too many insults in football, and I think that every league should worry about their own situation.”
Qatar-backed PSG, whose president Nasser al-Khelaifi is chairman of the influential European Club Association and sits on the UEFA Executive Committee, have changed the landscape of football on the continent in the last decade, along with Abu-Dhabi-owned Manchester City.
The irony is that neither club has yet managed to win the Champions League, and both were knocked out of this season’s competition by Real Madrid.
The Spanish club will win their fifth Champions League in nine seasons if they beat Liverpool, but the feeling is that it will only be a matter of time before PSG or Manchester City claim the prize.
Both have been accused of breaching UEFA financial fair play rules in the past, although those rules were recently relaxed.
Clubs can now report losses of 60 million euros ($64.3 million) over three years, double the previous limit, while spending on wages, transfers and agents fees will be limited to 70 percent of total revenues by 2025.
“We have clear rules, whoever obeys the rules can play our competitions, the others will not,” Ceferin said.
“Things change. You cannot say ‘I’m a traditional club, I have to win until the end of history’.”
‘World’s biggest sporting event’
Ceferin, a 54-year-old Slovenian lawyer, could be forgiven for regretting the fact that the latest Champions League final will be between two of the 12 clubs who last year tried to break away to form a Super League.
Liverpool quickly backed out of the project, but Real stand by it along with Barcelona and Juventus. The trio still face potential punishment from UEFA as a result.
“This non-project is forgotten, I even forgot that Liverpool was part of it. It was so fast, in two days it was gone,” Ceferin insisted.
“Real Madrid deserve to come to the final. Now you can believe me or not, but I really don’t mind who wins.
“I think that the best team should win and it clearly shows how clean our competition is.
“If we would have any influence on results, probably we would not be happy that a team that is in a lawsuit against us comes to the final. But football is one thing. And the other stuff is different.”
Saturday’s final was supposed to be played in Saint-Petersburg only for the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February to force UEFA to strip the city of the event.
Paris replaced Saint-Petersburg and, as a result, 80,000 fans will fill the Stade de France, while many thousands more descend on the city without tickets for what Ceferin feels is now a sporting occasion of unrivalled scale.
“I would say that it is the biggest single sporting event in the world, for sure. The only problem we have with Paris is that everybody wants to come,” said Ceferin.
It is the third consecutive year the final has been moved after the pandemic forced late changes in 2020 and 2021.
It is due to go to Istanbul next year, before visiting London in 2024 and then Munich.
By 2024, the Champions League will change, with the group stage featuring 36 clubs, up from 32, and teams all together in one pool.
“It works very well but why wouldn’t we (make) it even more interesting,” Ceferin replied, when asked why UEFA felt the need to shake up the competition.
“It would be the easiest thing not to do anything, sit and enjoy. I think it is really a good system and you will see it in the future. That is my opinion.”
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