Charlie Stillitano, an American sports executive and chairman of Relevent Sports—which hosts the pre-season International Champions Cup tournament—has suggested Manchester United deserve a UEFA Champions League place more than Leicester City due to their superior stature.
According to the Associated Press (h/t the Guardian), Stillitano told American radio station SiriusXM:
What would Manchester United argue: did we create soccer or did Leicester create [it]? Let’s call it the money pot created by soccer and the fandom around the world. Who has had more of an integral role, Manchester United or Leicester? It’s a wonderful, wonderful story—but you could see it from Manchester United’s point of view, too.
In one of English football's greatest Cinderella stories, the Foxes are on course to at least finish in the Champions League places this season, if not win the Premier League title, while Tottenham Hotspur are also in the mix.
As things stand, the likes of Chelsea, United and Liverpool will all miss out on the Champions League at their expense. Stillitano added:
Maybe that is absolutely spectacular unless you are a Manchester United fan, Liverpool fan … or a Chelsea fan. I guess they don’t have a birthright to be in it every year but it’s the age-old argument: U.S. sports franchises versus what they have in Europe. There are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful elements to relegation and promotion and there are good arguments for a closed system.
Per the report, Stillitano held talks with the Premier League's biggest clubs—United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City—on Tuesday ostensibly to discuss the ICC, but he said they also broached the issue of "restructuring the Champions League."
Further, talks are taking place within the European Club Association discussing the possibility of automatic Champions League places for the biggest and most prestigious teams in Europe.
Stillitano believes those clubs, having made the Champions League the financial powerhouse it is today, deserve to reap the rewards for doing so more than underdogs like Leicester.
He said: "This is going to sound arrogant and it’s the furthest thing from it … but suddenly when you see the teams we have this summer in the ICC you are going to shake your head and say, ‘Isn’t that the Champions League? No, the Champions League is PSV [Eindhoven) and Gent.'"
The American went on to reveal the complaints he's heard from clubs: "I could make a lot more money, I can be a lot more visible, I can help my sponsors out but right now I am locked into doing certain things that are really historic."
The idea of a European Super League, in which Europe's elite clubs break away from their domestic leagues and face each other, has long been mooted, and Tuesday's meeting has only furthered those rumours—though Arsenal denied that they or any of their rivals endorse such an idea, per PA Dugout:
BBC Sport's Dan Roan nevertheless believes the elite clubs would welcome a restructure of the Champions League in their favour:
Top clubs clearly worried. More TV £ = more domestic competition (eg Leicester), CL jeopardy. China threat. Change at FIFA/UEFA— Dan Roan (@danroan) March 2, 2016
Time to talk
Football writer Yousef Teclab, like many neutrals, believes such a move would be grossly unfair on Leicester, whose phenomenal rise to the top of the league deserves to be rewarded:
An European Super League only helps elite clubs. I mean Leicester City deserve to be in Europe. This shuts them out. https://t.co/T3GIn1pHDs— Yousef Teclab (@yousef738) February 12, 2016
Indeed, Sam Wallace of the Telegraph quipped the Foxes would be more deserving of a place in a European Super League after Arsenal suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Swansea City on Wednesday:
If Wenger keeps losing home games like this, do Leicester City get to veto Arsenal's place in that Dorchester Hotel European Super League?— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) March 2, 2016
Should clubs like United be guaranteed a place in the Champions League?
Unlike in American sports, which feature the same roster of teams each season and no movement between their top leagues, promotion, relegation and qualifying for European competition are integral parts of the top flights around Europe.
For example, Liverpool have only featured in the Champions League once since 2009, because their campaigns in the Premier League haven't warranted a top-four finish.
The possibility of a reformatted Champions League or a European Super League will no doubt linger on for some time. Should the ideas be further discussed seriously, they may find support from the traditionally elite clubs but will almost certainly face opposition from those who would stand to miss out—with Leicester being a prime example.