LONDON • Senior figures from the Premier League's "big five" clubs discussed the prospect of Champions League matches being played in the United States or Asia at a meeting with the company that has spearheaded the drive to take European football to North America.
Executives from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United were photographed by The Sun leaving London's Dorchester hotel after a meeting on Tuesday. Club sources say that there is no appetite for a breakaway league but confirmed that reforms of the Champions League were discussed as well as new summer tournaments for European sides around the world.
Uefa, European football's governing body, has insisted that it is "not spooked" by the latest developments, but the continent's leading clubs are manoeuvring for position in the run-up to the decision on the format for the Champions League before the next three-year TV cycle from 2018.
The clubs held talks with officials from Relevent Sports, the company owned by Stephen Ross. The American billionaire set up the International Champions Cup, a high-profile global pre-season tournament for Europe's top clubs.
It has already proved a huge success in the US, which was evident in the 109,318 fans - a record crowd for a football match there - who watched Manchester United beat Real Madrid 3-1 in Michigan in August 2014. Some of the tournament's matches have also been staged in China and Australia.
One of the executives involved in the meeting said that the talks did not cover the possibility of playing Premier League matches overseas or the prospect of guaranteed places in the Champions League for leading clubs.
The Champions League may be a more straightforward challenge, however, because Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the European Club Association (ECA) chairman and executive chairman of Bayern Munich, said in January that European matches could be played in the US or China and Japan and that the idea was discussed.
If that were to happen, the most likely scenario would be for all first knockout-round matches to be played overseas to ensure that no club gets home advantage. Relevent Sports' experience of staging high-profile European matches in the US would put the company in a strong position to tender for contracts. The company has refused to comment.
United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward was among five club officials involved in the talks but United insiders insist that they are strongly opposed to any breakaway from the Champions League or Premier League or any major change to the footballing landscape. Arsenal also said that they were opposed to any breakaway.
THE TIMES, LONDON