Real Madrid president backs soccer changes post-COVID

By Associated Press

MADRID: Long linked to the creation of a more lucrative competition, Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez wants financial disruption caused to soccer by the coronavirus pandemic to spur deep changes to current playing formats. 

“Nothing will go back to being like before,” Pérez told an online assembly of Real Madrid’s club members on Sunday. 

“The pandemic must make us more competitive,” he said. “We must innovate, discover formulas so that football remains attractive. Real Madrid was there at the beginning of FIFA and the European Cup. Our model now needs a new impulse, and the impact of COVID-19 has shown that.”

Elite clubs, including Madrid, have been pushing for more guaranteed Champions League matches and revenue starting in the 2024-25 season, but UEFA-led talks failed to reach an agreement last year amid opposition from leagues and less wealthy clubs.

Pérez also in 2019 formed the World Football Club Association, which has been formulating plans for new competitions of its own. Those proposals only emerged in reports after Pérez met with FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

“Everyone is arguing for a remodeling of world football. There is a saturation (of games) and our fans, who are the most important thing we have, suffer,” Pérez said. “Football reform cannot wait. The biggest clubs in Europe have millions of fans spread across the world. We have the responsibility to fight for this change.”

Pérez did not elaborate on what exact changes he would support. 

The pandemic has shone the spotlight on an economic reality for clubs in top-tier leagues: Millions of fans sitting on sofas and in bars watching games on television trump the thousands of die-hard supporters who have mostly not been able to attend matches. 

The trend in world football has also been to increase the number of games and competitions, both for clubs and national teams, such as the UEFA Nations League. There is talk of adding more Champions League games for elite clubs in Europe. 

Pérez said that the impact of the pandemic, which has kept fans out of stadiums in Spain since March, has reduced the Spanish champion’s revenues from 822 million euros ($1 billion) to 715 million euros. 

“The reality is that all big football clubs are suffering this significant financial blow and we’re not immune to it either,” he said. 

Madrid is currently renovating its Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and playing games in a much smaller stadium at its training campus.

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