Mourinho and Wenger back Platini's plans

September 8, 2007

BRUSSELS, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Top coaches including Chelsea's Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger of Arsenal have backed Michel Platini's plan to give domestic cup winners a place in the Champions League, a senior UEFA official said on Saturday.

UEFA president Platini met a number of Europe's leading coaches on Friday including Mourinho, Wenger, Ottmar Hitzfeld of Bayern Munich, Inter Milan's Roberto Mancini and Juande Ramos of Sevilla to discuss the reform of Europe's elite club competition.

'We had a meeting with top coaches and managers to discuss a number of issues including the changes to the Champions League format and there were no negative statements or remarks with regard to the proposed changes,' Platini's special adviser William Gaillard said. 'It was all very positive.'

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was not present. He opposes proposals to give 16 cup winners a separate qualifying route into the Champions League and an allocation of four automatic places in the lucrative group stages.

'Considering Mr Ferguson's comments it was refreshing to see that in particular both Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho gave the new idea their blessing,' Gaillard said.

The UEFA official added that Platini held a private meeting with the Chelsea coach.

'Platini's vision of soccer is the same as mine,' Mourinho told Canada's Italian language daily Corriere Canadese on Saturday.

'I am just glad he didn't reduce the knockout phase as this is very exciting. The idea of allowing the cup winners into the Champions League is also an exciting idea.'

On his election earlier this year, Platini said he wanted to open up the competition to lesser teams and smaller countries in a bid to combat the dominance of the larger nations such as England, Spain and Italy.

But in return for supporting the former French international, those three countries would be given three automatic spots in the group stages rather than two.

The proposed shake-up was discussed by UEFA's new Professional Football Strategy Council last month with UEFA's executive due to vote on the issue in October.

The coaches and UEFA officials also discussed refereeing, discipline and the state of pitches.

European soccer's governing body agreed to explore the idea of changing its suspension policy for Champions League yellow cards.

'If a player is cautioned but then has not been booked for a number of matches, we will look at dropping the initial booking so he does not have suspension hanging over him for the next match,' Gaillard said.

'They (coaches) also backed our decision to clamp down on off-the-ball jostling in the box prior to set-pieces and to leave it to the referee to decide whether to stop play due to injury instead of teams kicking it out of play.'