UEFA President Michel Platini has emphasised the prestige and excellence of the UEFA Champions League, and outlined various key objectives and activities for European football's governing body, in his speech at the UEFA Champions League group-stage draw in Monaco.
'Gamble has paid off'
"Two years ago, I expressed my desire to see the Champions League become even more attractive, but by making it more accessible to champions, including champions of countries that are not necessarily under the spotlight," said Mr Platini on Thursday. "Some people thought this was a risky gamble. However, two years later, on this very stage, in this very room, I can declare that the gamble has paid off."
'Captures the imagination'
Mr Platini said that the clubs taking part in the UEFA Champions League had earned the right to participate in "a competition which has lost none of its charm or attractiveness. A competition which remains synonymous with excellence. A competition, the competition, which captures the imagination of tens of millions of football followers throughout the world."
Dialogue with clubs
The UEFA President welcomed the new spirit of dialogue that had been established between UEFA and European clubs. "Today we are talking, listening and understanding each other. And even better: we are working hand in hand thanks to close collaboration with the European Club Association, which represents [clubs] democratically. Through the ECA, the clubs now have a truly strong voice for change ... in the end, everyone will benefit. Football will benefit."
Mr Platini admitted that work still needed to be done to eradicate certain negative elements from football. "Over the past two years, European football has continued to experience sad, dark tales of violence, racism and corruption," he said. "Maybe fewer than in the past, but in this case less is still too many. It is true that football is a reflection of society, but even so, this should not release us from our responsibilities. Therefore, because I cannot tolerate failure and because I love this sport more than anything in the world, we decided with the UEFA Executive Committee to take some radical measures in the interests of football.
'Ruthless in dealing with cheats'
"Considerable resources were invested in the creation of an early warning system designed to identify suspicious matches that might be the subject of illegal betting. With regard to racism, we adopted guidelines which are coming into force this season. If racist conduct takes place inside a stadium, the referee will now have to stop the match after consulting the various officials. Furthermore, in the past two years, our disciplinary bodies have even had to exclude clubs from our competitions following appalling, unacceptable outbursts of violence ... believe me, we have now equipped ourselves, and UEFA will be ruthless in dealing with cheats and hooligans."
The UEFA President underlined his hope to see financial fair play in football. "I do not want to be a UEFA president who, during his term of office, sees prestigious clubs that form part of our sport's heritage disappear from the football map due to bankruptcy," he said. "I do not want to be a UEFA president who, during his term of office, does nothing to curb certain abuses and turns a blind eye to certain risky management strategies.
'Healthy club football'
"The idea is therefore to put in place a series of measures over the next few years in order that, in the long run, clubs do not spend more money than they earn. It is a short and simple phrase, but it will have huge consequences in producing healthy club football that can look forward to a prosperous, honest future." The measures, Mr Platini added, would be discussed with clubs, leagues, national associations and players.
'Financial fair play'
"Please understand me when I say that financial fair play will not necessarily reduce all inequalities. There will still be financially powerful clubs and clubs with limited resources. This is what makes football so popular: the fact that the little teams can beat the big ones. May uncertainty reign! However, financial fair play will enable us to introduce greater integrity, fairness and transparency in football. Financial fair play is a question of morality, ethics and common sense.
Preserve the beautiful game
"I am convinced that, together, we will be able to raise the levels of solidarity, fraternity and entertainment in football," Mr Platini concluded. "Together, we will preserve the most beautiful sport on the planet."
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