G14 to expand in bid to bridge divide with soccer chiefs

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BRUSSELS, Sep 14 (Reuters) The group which represents 18 of Europe's top clubs said it would expand to around 50 by the end of the year in a move it hopes could lead to resolving differences with soccer's governing bodies.

G14, which includes powerful clubs such as Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan, is at odds with soccer's parent body FIFA and Europe's UEFA over issues such as the release of players for international duty and the international calendar.

An ongoing row over compensation for players injured while playing for their country has led to two court cases, one of which is pending at the European Court of Justice -- Europe's highest court.

FIFA and UEFA have failed to recognise or engage with the G14, saying the lobby group is elitist and does not represent the majority of clubs in Europe.

''We understand UEFA's concerns and we accept that we may have not been representative of all clubs, but we have now decided to make this change and expand,'' G14 general manger Thomas Kurth told Reuters yesterday.

''If this is given a positive response by UEFA, then we hope this could be the first step in solving the problems we have.'' Kurth would not name any clubs which may be invited to join, however G14 sources said Chelsea and Scottish duo Celtic and Rangers were in the frame.

''We will have a new name and constitution. We will decide on the exact criteria but in general terms the clubs involved would be like-minded and have a tradition of playing regularly in European competition,'' Kurth said.

A UEFA spokesman said his organisation would ''wait and see the exact make up of the new grouping and what they stand for'', but senior sources within the organisation said the move could lead to G14 being embraced by the Swiss-based body.

''UEFA president Michel Platini has always said there is a need for a proper independent club body such as FIFPRO is for players and the EPFL is for the leagues,'' one UEFA source said.

''But he said it must be democratic and representative. This could be the answer.'' However, the source said G14's decision to oppose Platini's plan to allow domestic cup winners to enter the Champions League had clouded the issue.

''I think UEFA may have been more generous in their response had this not happened. They may even have gone as far as to bury the hatchet,'' the source said. ''But at least the there is some positive moves and lines are now open.'' REUTERS BJR RAI1017

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