Platini aims to level Champions League playing field

November 8, 2006

BELGRADE, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Former French international Michel Platini has vowed to make the Champions League more open to less wealthy clubs if he beats his rival Lennart Johannson in their battle for the UEFA presidency.

'I want progress but not a revolution,' Platini, 51, told a news conference during a brief visit to Belgrade as part of his campaign to oust the 77-year old Swede, who has been in charge since 1990.

'My advantage over Mr. Johansson is that my candidacy came at a moment when he thought about calling it quits and then decided to run against me for some reason,' Platini said.

Johansson has launched his own bid for a fifth and final term saying he has the experience Platini lacks and the outcome of their battle will be decided at the UEFA Congress in Dusseldorf on January 27.

Platini, 51, believes that while the 32-team format of Europe's premier club competition should remain unchanged, the number of clubs from the top leagues should be reduced in order to give more countries a chance to participate.

'Italy, England, Germany and Spain should have three clubs each in the Champions league so that teams from other leagues that are not in the same financial bracket can compete with them on the pitch.

'There are not enough champions taking part in the competition as it is. There are many countries in Europe whose clubs can't hold onto their most talented players but they still deserve a chance to play against the top clubs.

'My mission is to protect soccer and I believe everyone will benefit from the idea to get more leagues, countries and clubs in Europe invloved in the Champions league.

'It would be a more European competition and as such would actually entice sponsors,' he said in a bid to dispel fears that reorganising the competition would trigger a financial backlash.

Platini said implementing his project would not mean doing anyone any favours and added it was desgned to help 'both the rich and the poor.'