By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Plans for a European superleague comprising the continent's top 20 clubs which would replace the Champions League within five years are being actively discussed, the president of Galatasaray said on Thursday.
Unal Aysal, one of Turkey's most successful businessmen who became Galatasaray president two years ago, was speaking at the Leaders in Football industry conference.
His comments were confirmed by Andrea Agnelli, the president of Juventus, who told delegates that an academic discussion about the future of European club soccer had started among top clubs.
While Agnelli was more considered in his responses, saying that the current format needed to be looked at and that the Europa League especially required revitalisation, Aysal was far more expansive.
But Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the chairman of the European Clubs Association, which has a five-year agreement with European soccer's governing body UEFA ensuring the future of the Champions League, dismissed the claims and said no such plan was on the agenda.
Aysal, though, did not mince his words when he spoke to reporters after appearing before delegates at the Conference.
"Changing things brings new energy and synergy to the system," he said.
"We have arrived in a stagnant situation in European football, we are not improving too much. This will open a new chapter in European football.
"The top 15-20 big clubs of Europe all agree with this.
"There may be one or two exceptions for local reasons, political reasons, and I will understand, but as the future for European clubs and the future of football, nobody can say no to this.
"At the moment it looks like a dream, a vision, I am sure sooner or later, in a maximum of five years time, it will be a reality.
Aysal said the league was the future of football and needed to be set up as soon as possible.
"Football is a great industry, a growing industry. A European super league would bring a lot of support and energise football in general," he said.
"I think it would be 20 big teams, with three to five teams changing every year. It can be fixed in a way to be useful to European football and bring new horizons to football.
"It can be controlled by UEFA or the clubs - preferably by the clubs. Clubs will have to reach standards set by certain criteria like financial fair play. It would be good for all European clubs to participate in this league."
Aysal said the starting-point might be the 20 biggest clubs breaking away from UEFA but a spokesman for the ruling body said it was not aware of any plans to form a new league.
Agnelli, 37, who has been president of Juventus for nearly four years, told delegates: "If one wants to break out of the system then probably the best competition is a closed competition with the 20 best European clubs," he said.
"We can have a secession but do 20 clubs have the discipline to send a letter to UEFA and to organise a competition overnight?"
Agnelli later clarified his comments to reporters by saying he was merely taking an "academic" position.
"If you are part of a system you accept that system and want to improve the system," he said.
The Champions League, which replaced the European Cup in 1992-93, has grown to be widely accepted as the premier club competition in global sport, generating billions in revenue every season.
"Our European Super League is the UEFA Champions League," Rummenigge said in a statement. "We are very happy with the current competitions and our extremely fruitful collaboration with UEFA.
"We will continue to work together with UEFA, and this beyond 2018.
"The ECA has taken note of comments made today regarding the alleged creation of a European Super League in 2018. ECA underlines that such an idea was never discussed within the association and never figured on any meeting agenda."
Aysal also said two major brands had expressed an interest in sponsoring a new league, adding that he did not expect clubs to break away from their domestic leagues but to have squads of 40 or 50 players, some of whom would play domestic league matches and others European games.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)