The Union of European Clubs (UEC) was launched on April 24 last year to represent the interests of the continent's so-called lesser clubs. 

Based in Brussels, Belgium, the soccer clubs' representative organization is situated closer to the center of Europe’s political governance, as opposed to the continent's soccer governing body (UEFA) situated in Nyon, Switzerland. Nonetheless, Brussels is an apt location for the newly established organization’s goals of democratizing European soccer.

The UEC is a representative body founded to stand up for Europe’s non-elite clubs, those that do not appear in UEFA continental club competitions every season, as well as those that play further down the soccer pyramid in lower tiers.

While the European Club Association (ECA) already exists as a representative body for top-tier clubs in all 55 UEFA member countries, boasting hundreds of members and significant organizational influence in the sport, the UEC argues that decisions made by the ECA affect those that are not members and as such those clubs also require representation.

Furthermore, a two-tiered ECA representation system separates ordinary members (with voting powers) and associated members (without voting powers).

The UEC, by contrast, operates on a one-vote-per-club basis. Although it has only been operational for a little over a year, and despite the fact it boasts fewer members than the ECA, it has large-scale aspirations for the future governance of European soccer.

How well do you really know your competitors?

Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.

Company Profile – free sample

Thank you!

Your download email will arrive shortly

Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample

We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below form

By GlobalData
Visit our Privacy Policy for more information about our services, how we may use, process and share your personal data, including information of your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.

In April, the body held its first general assembly and elected Alex Muzio (president of Belgian side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise) as its first chair. Following this, the group unveiled its first strategy document, outlining its three aims – good governance, integrity and financial sustainability, and competitive balance – and how it intends to achieve these.

With the release of the strategy, and with a backdrop of Spanish giant Real Madrid winning the UEFA Champions League for the 6th time in 11 years, UEC director of operations William Martucci spoke to Sportcal (GlobalData Sport) about why a body like the UEC needs to exist, how it intends to work alongside European soccer infrastructure rather than combat it, and what it looks to do in the immediate future to secure the long-term prosperity of the sport on the continent.

What is the UEC and why is it important?

“We are a representative body for European professional [soccer] clubs. Membership is open to [clubs in] the top two divisions of all UEFA national associations, and the top three categories for the FIFA transfer system. We have over 140 members at the moment, and we have a one club, one vote principle, which is what UEFA does at the national association's level. We believe this is the only way to make sure that decisions are not skewed towards the elite. That's the key principle that we are promoting.

“We are treated as a recognized stakeholder by EU institutions and by other stakeholders like European Leagues, for example, and we now are seeking official recognition from UEFA and integration into UEFA’s governance committees.

“The key reason why we want to be in the committees is we believe that decisions about the UEFA [international club] competitions affect all professional clubs and not just the participants in these competitions.

“We recently published our first strategy document and it's very much going to be a living document. This is the first version that we wanted to start working on even before the general assembly. We are now in the process of creating working groups, with our members and potentially with external experts as well, to further explore the key topics that we've identified, and now we will have a dedicated task force to further explore each pillar.”

Why is the UEC necessary? What prevailing trends in European soccer have made it important to establish this body?

“A major source of concern is the reduction of the mobility in the sporting hierarchy. Essentially, the system is broken in a way, it's becoming extremely difficult for some super clubs to fall down. There is a clear trend of decreasing competitive balance that we see inside domestic leagues and between leagues as well, and it creates various problems.

“The first one is from a commercial point of view, it makes competitions less interesting. If you know who's going to win there's just less jeopardy, which is something that is likely to affect [how we sell] the game.

“Our concern is that nothing is being done to stop this. Non-regular participants in UEFA competitions represent the vast majority of professional clubs in Europe and yet they have very little power. The whole system has been shaped and is being shaped by the elite clubs and they are shaping it in a way that reduces competitive balance and mobility because it is in their interest to do so.

“We believe the very first step is to change the balance of power, by allowing all clubs to be involved in the decision-making process. This is what we want. This is the key. Merit in the result. This is what we stand for. This is the football that we want. And we also think that all stakeholders should maybe clarify what they stand for.”

One of the major tenets of the UEC is its plan to ensure financial stability across European soccer. How will your strategy ensure this?

“Our initial position is to support UEFA’s new regulations, but also to call for a more transparent and effective system of sanctions. We think this squad cost ratio of 70% included in the new regulations is a good idea. Now the key question is what happens to clubs reaching these rules.

“Just like we had with financial fair play before, financial fair play rules were probably good, the problem was when the super clubs breached the rules and nobody understood how the sanctions worked and there was a feeling that some clubs were allowed to beat rules and others weren’t, which goes back to the governance and how much power every club has when it comes to defending themselves.

“This is typically where we want to work with our members on defining what is effective and what is fair, and it will be interesting to have different members from different countries telling us what happens at that level. An initial idea that came up was also to introduce a system of rewards in addition to sanctions, which is something that is not in the regulations at the moment.

“But then, when you think of sustainability, I think it's also linked to the broader topic of revenue, distribution, and solidarity. It also has impacts on competitive balance.”

The UEC is aiming to partner with UEFA and clearly supports a lot of the work it does, how deep have your conversations with the governing body been about your future plans?

“Since even before the launch of UEC they've been aware of everything we've been doing. We’ve had regular conversations. I would say that the majority of our discussions are around the governance and representation points because that's really priority number one for us – being recognized officially and being integrated into UEFA committees. That's what we're working towards.

“There's been one topic where we were already able to share our view and our position, that was on the solidarity payments. These are the payments that go to the non-participating clubs of UEFA competitions. There was an announcement that was made in early September last year that solidarity payments increased from 7% to 10% for the 2024-27 cycle, and this is something where we have clearly called for an increase [in] together with European Leagues who have been doing so for a [long] period of time, and we know that our existence already played a role there.

“Now that we have this strategy document, I think it's also just the beginning of a new dialogue on a list of points we have. And in terms of our relationship with the ECA, we had discussions before launching and we've made it clear that we're not competing with them. We think that they are a legitimate organization to represent elite clubs. At the moment, we haven't been working directly on objectives or policies with them, but this is something that we hope to achieve in the coming months.”

While the UEC has circa 140 members, the ECA boasts far more. What would you say to critics who as such question the necessity of a body like the UEC?

“From our perspective, the key point is the one club, one vote principle. The governance of European club football should be managed in a way where every club is invited to the decision-making process and not just a few elite clubs. Unless [the ECA] offers full membership and full voting rights to all of their members, then something needs to be done to change the governance.”

Looking ahead, are there challenges that you still expect to face on this journey?

“I don't know if there's anything specific. As I said, it's a long process of establishing relationships with different stakeholders and the process of recruiting more members. We need to keep building our membership. We have about 25 countries represented in our membership at the moment. There are 55 international associations. There are a lot of countries where we can do better.

“The recognition aspect is definitely a hurdle because there's a bit of a chicken and egg situation where some clubs we speak to say “well, you're not recognized yet, we will wait for your recognition before we can join,” and then on the recognition side, we need more members to be perceived as more serious.

“I don't think we expected to have this many members after one year. Now it's about keeping doing what we're doing, talking to the stakeholders, talking to the EU institutions, making sure that people understand what we stand for, what we're trying to do, why we're trying to do it, the fact that we are non-confrontational.”

Ultimately, how do you seek to ensure fairness above all in European soccer?

“It's about leading by example. We want to be as transparent and as democratic as possible in everything we do. Allowing our members to vote as much as possible for key decisions, and potentially publishing the votes every time.

“It comes down to just providing a different voice in a way, just from our existence. Our clubs were very limited until now in terms of options to speak out and to call for changes. Elite clubs have had pressure groups and lobbies for decades, and their actions have shaped the evolution of the football landscape since the end of the 80s.

”But by being the voice of non-elite clubs and only non-elite clubs, which is the first time an organization is only for non-elite clubs, we believe that we can add more to the counterweight that is already represented by UEFA, the leagues, and the fans.”