By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) - UEFA was unnecessarily scared of the big clubs when it negotiated with them over the Champions League's format, the head of the organization representing Europe's domestic football leagues said on Thursday.
UEFA announced significant changes to the Champions League last month, with more group stage places set aside for teams from the top four leagues -- effectively Spain, England, Germany and Italy -- and fewer for teams from smaller leagues.
The changes staved off the threat that a breakaway Super League independent of UEFA could be created by the big clubs, a possibility which sources said had been discussed at private meetings.
However, Lars-Christer Olsson, president of EPFL umbrella group for 24 European domestic football leagues, said UEFA had over-estimated the breakaway threat and denied that the clubs were united in agreeing to the change.
"UEFA has gone to bed with a limited number of clubs without taking into account the wishes and needs of everyone else," said Olsson, who was UEFA chief executive from 2003 to 2007.
"I think UEFA was afraid for no real reason," said the Swede in a telephone interview from Amsterdam, where he chaired an EPFL meeting.
"For the majority of clubs, domestic leagues are more important than international competitions and more important than a breakaway league," he said.
Sponsors would also shy away if there was a split, he added.
"The last thing they want is to have a conflict in the market, they would never put their money in under those circumstances," he said.
The EPFL has vehemently opposed the new system, saying it is detrimental to domestic football and will increase the already large financial gap between a handful of wealthy clubs and the rest.
"We are asking UEFA to revoke the current decision and start the process all over again, I think it is a possible solution," said Olsson.
He warned that European football was heading towards a situation like the one in basketball where a single professional league, the NBA, is regarded as the only one which counts.
Olsson was also concerned at UEFA's decision to create a subsidiary to manage its European club competitions, fearing that power was being handed over to the big clubs.
According to UEFA, the subsidiary will have an equal number of managing directors from UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA), who each appoint half of the senior representatives on the board of the company.
"That is the first step on a European franchise system based on North American models," said Olsson.
North American professional sport is generally organized in closed leagues where each club is treated as a franchise while European football operates on a pyramid system with promotion and relegation between the tiers.
(Editing by Toby Davis)