Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to our magnificent ECA General Assembly here in Berlin. Thank you to the German Football Federation, our 11 German ECA clubs, and Mahmut Özdemir the Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Interior and Community of Germany, for welcoming us in your great country.
Welcome to our friends – the President of UEFA, our most important stakeholder, Aleksander Čeferin; and joining us virtually, FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Also with us, representatives from National Associations, European Leagues, domestic leagues, FIFPRO, fan groups, many ex-football players and legends, the European Parliament and European Commission – we are so pleased you are here with us.
Welcome to our Honorary Guests: our great friend and champion of women’s football Natalie Portman; together with Tim Lieweke, a pioneer in sports innovation and business.
And finally, the reason we are here, our ECA Members – our proud family which is growing every single day – with a particularly warm welcome to all our new members. It’s amazing to see so many clubs from across Europe joining us all the time.
Colleagues and friends of the European and global football family, welcome to the 30th General Assembly of the European Club Association. While it was never my intention to be your Chairman, I’m so honoured to serve you in the ECA, and I’m so happy to be here with you in our 15th anniversary year.
Today, we start a new chapter. We mark the first General Assembly of the new 2023/27 ECA Membership Cycle. We will elect our new Board and various positions for the new membership cycle. And we continue our major reforms, set in motion these past 2 years, to become ever more open and inclusive as European clubs' sole recognised representative.
Instead of talking about our strategic priorities and principles, I want to share today some personal memories of our time together since April 2021 – and some goals looking forward. It is always helpful to look back and remember where we started and what we have learned, before looking to our future. That’s the only way to be better.
I remember the first General Assembly of our new leadership team at the President Wilson hotel in Geneva 2 years ago. We had spent the past 18 months wearing COVID masks and holding meetings by video and telephone. Hand-shakes were banned. Everything was done at a distance. At UEFA club competition matches, fans were not allowed inside.
However, we opened our stadiums to store supplies and serve our cities – because football is bigger than just a sport. We found ways to connect with our fans despite the distance. Rather than being pushed apart, we pulled together – even if some wanted us to fail. And it was in Geneva where ECA set our course to where we are today.
Since then, we have made up for lost time, spending so many moments together; listening to each others’ issues, and finding solutions for them. We have held General Assemblies, Board meetings, youth exchanges, knowledge workshops, and network events in over 25 countries across Europe. We have hosted ECA’s first-ever Financial Sustainability Summit in Switzerland, and our first-ever Women’s Football Summit in London which marked a milestone for women’s club football.
Our members are everything to ECA. Your ambitions are ECA’s ambitions – big clubs and small clubs. And I want to talk from my heart. You know, as someone from a small country like Qatar, I know what it’s like to be an outsider; to be under-estimated and under-appreciated – but still to have big ambitions.
That’s why I have such a determination for ECA to help smaller clubs – and any club with big dreams. Don’t let anyone stop your ambition; don’t give up; keep working hard; keep believing in your goals. No matter the size of your club or the size of your challenge, your voice is heard here. ECA has collective ambitions threading together all our Sub-Divisions, and we are growing European club football side by side.
During our time together, it is interesting what stays in your mind.
- I will never forget all the exits from the ECA Board WhatsApp group on Sunday 18th April 2021 – I actually thought my phone had been hacked, which wouldn’t be the first time. However, I will always remember how we held firm as an institution, and the clubs who returned – some of whom are contributing more than ever to ECA.
- I will never forget our last General Assembly in Budapest when the lights cut out for two hours. However, I will always remember this moment symbolised everything about our new ECA. Rather than stop, we used that time as a unique opportunity to discuss our issues together, and to light our own path.
We have come such a long way over the past cycle. There has been an enormous shift in the role clubs play in the decisions that shape European club football. Today, we are a dynamic, democratic and inclusive institution – seeking influence and a voice for the many, not the few.
I want to be very clear what our mission has always been. We are a community of clubs of all sizes and people of all backgrounds with a common purpose – to grow and protect the European game for all clubs in Europe, working in partnership with all our stakeholders. We want to grow together in win-win partnerships. We bring European clubs and stakeholders together.
- If you had said 2 years ago that we would have a commercial and corporate Joint Venture with UEFA, increasing European competition revenues by over 25% – people would have said it’s impossible.
Our partnership with UEFA is so important. We don’t always agree – far from it. But we always discuss things constructively – with dialogue, common understanding and searching for solutions. And, with thanks to President Čeferin and our UEFA colleagues, I am pleased to say that this morning we signed a new MOU with UEFA which sets our path to 2030 as the sole representative of European clubs in Europe and worldwide. I want to be clear, as clubs we have obligations under our MOU – we must all honour them.
- If you had said 2 years ago that we would have an MOU with FIFA to 2030, which increases our club benefits by 70% and charts a way towards a new global competition and a Joint Venture for the men’s and women’s Club World Cups – people would have said it’s impossible.
- If you had said 2 years ago that 333 ECA members would have access to a dedicated seat on the Board, and that we would have launched a new women’s membership – people would have said it’s impossible.
It’s hard to believe but in just 24 months, we have almost doubled our size from 247 clubs rising towards 500 clubs today; and that’s just the beginning.
Of course we have to be thoughtful and considered about how we expand – when we do it; how we do it; and why. But while we continue to grow, I want every 1st Division club in every corner of Europe to know you can reach us, you will be heard. We will represent you, and give every club a voice.
More than anything else, what has defined our first term together is openness. An openness to change.
When I became Chairman, I was told “this is the way things are done”, and “our statutes don’t allow XYZ” and “you can’t do that to expand”. I thought, that’s crazy. I asked myself, if we are a ‘European Club Association’, should we not represent all of Europe? Of course, yes.
So I asked ECA Management to find solutions. We changed our statutes. We opened-up ECA to more and more clubs, providing more and more benefits. We built draw-bridges not moats. And this is just the start.
Just pause to consider what we have achieved in such a short space of time:
- By placing collective interests above individual interests, we have seen +89% and +73% increases in UEFA Club Competition solidarity for sub-division 3 and sub-division 4 clubs since the last cycle. There has been a +25% increase in prize money for UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League.
By the way, I really enjoyed all our Sub-Division meetings this summer over Zoom. I wrote down the concerns of all our clubs. In fact, President Čeferin jokes that every time I see him, I bring him a big new file of ECA requests.
- By working on our relationships in Europe and worldwide, we have seen 440 clubs and 837 players around the world benefit from the Club Benefits Programme agreed between FIFA and ECA – even clubs outside Europe.
Look back to the World Cup in Germany 2006, clubs received nothing. Then after ECA was established, clubs received $40 million in South Africa 2010. Following our long and tough negotiations with FIFA, our club benefits have multiplied. Now, for each of the 2026 and 2030 World Cups, $355 million will be distributed to clubs worldwide, over 70% more than the last World Cup.
- By seeing football not just as a sport but as a social contract, we have used the potential and reach of all our clubs to make a difference in wider society. We have shown how we can come together for communities in Ukraine, Türkiye and Syria – and the new ECA Foundation will continue our important responsibility to society.
What we have achieved over the past cycle is not through good luck. Luck is when an opportunity comes along – and you’re prepared for it. The principles of our renewed ECA are built on:
- Engaging with all clubs in Europe,
- Representing them with one voice,
- Working with all stakeholders for win-win partnerships,
- Creating common ground and finding solutions; even if that means some sacrifices, and
- Sticking together in the hard times – while sharing our successes in the good times.
That’s what families do. And more than anything, as I always say, ECA is a family.
However, I’m not saying all this because we have succeeded – not at all. Our work has only just started. For the next cycle of ECA, we will look up, not down – the sky is the limit.
- We will have an expanded Board and new Executive Committee which will be more representative, empowered and efficient than ever before.
- We will have a wider membership and new philosophy that will see ECA not only represent clubs who play in Europe, but clubs that are from Europe. We will be more inclusive – vertically and horizontally – within professional football.
- We will have better resources and improved funding that will match our goals. I am often the first person to put pressure on our Management team asking for more to be done for our members, more quickly. But honestly, what our team achieves for you with a limited budget is incredible.
Everyone in the pyramid will benefit from ECA’s work. We will not grow at the expense of other legitimate stakeholders. We will grow together with our partners and bring people with us. And we will aspire to make a difference every day, including by giving amazing services to you, our members.
My friends, as we look ahead, we have a diamond of opportunities in our hands. Thanks to UEFA and our clubs, we have - without doubt - the best club competitions in the world. We are blessed with the best teams and the greatest players – in fact, 73% of players at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 come from our European clubs. We have a treasured history, strong traditions and fantastic, renewed and new, trusted relationships. We build bridges not barriers, with an open mind – where every member has a voice, no matter the language, origin or opinion.
This is what ECA represents.
I have never been prouder to serve you as your Chairman, and I’m so excited to start our next chapter together.