Platini seeks EU help over foreign owners

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BRUSSELS, Sept 19 (Reuters) Foreign owners such as those at Manchester United and Liverpool are ''a serious threat'' to European soccer, UEFA president Michel Platini said today, blaming them for obstructing his Champions League reform.

In a letter, obtained by Reuters, to all 27 European Union leaders -- including Britain's Gordon Brown, Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy -- European soccer's top official asks them to protect the sport from ''a distortion''.

''A serious threat hangs over the development of European football: the malign and ever-present influence of money,'' the letter says.

Platini's special adviser William Gaillard told Reuters that the former French international believed the billionaire backers of Manchester United and Liverpool were behind the opposition to plans to give domestic cup winners a Champions League spot.

Last week G14, which represents 18 of Europe's most powerful clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool, said it was opposed to the new proposals.

''I know G14 have said this but from our discussions it seems the main opposition is at Liverpool and Manchester United who have investors out to make a quick buck on their investment and are only looking at the financial risks of the reform plan and not the sporting merits,'' Gaillard said.

''Basically by giving away a spot in their league to cup winners, they see this as reducing their chances of entering the lucrative Champions League.'' Gaillard was also quick to differentiate Liverpool and United's US owners from Chelsea's Russian owner Roman Abramovich and AC Milan's Silvio Berlusconi who he said Platini believes ''love the game and are not just in it for the money''.

ABSURD ALLEGATIONS In his letter to EU leaders Platini says: ''Money has always been in sport...but money has never been the ultimate objective of football, the main purpose has been to win trophies.

''For the first time we may be entering an era in which financial profit alone will be the measure of sporting success.'' Liverpool's Chief Executive Rick Parry described the letter and Gaillard's comments as ''absurd''. Manchester United were unavailable for comment.

''I made it absolutely clear (to Platini) last week that I was representing the views of the majority of English Premier League clubs when I said we do not support the reform plan,'' Parry told Reuters in a telephone call.

''I didn't even discuss this issue with our owners prior to last week. Bottom line is that allowing the cup winners into the competition devalues the Premier League.'' Platini's proposals would give 16 cup winners a separate qualifying route into the Champions League and an allocation of four automatic places in the lucrative group stages.

In England, Spain and Italy the fourth qualifying spot through each league would be transferred to the cup winners.

Platini also faces some opposition from the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), compelling him to defer a final vote by UEFA's executive by one month.

The EPFL, which represents leagues such as the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A, was given until the end of October to come up with alternative proposals.

''We are meeting on Thursday and the only matter on the agenda is the Champions League reform. We are not seeking a confrontation, but a solution.'','' EPFL general manager Emanuel Macedo de Madeiros said.

Platini's letter was also written in a bid to convince EU leaders to give sport an exemption from EU laws in areas such as the development of homegrown players and multi-billion euro television rights.

The 27 heads of state will meet next month to finalise a new reform treaty for the bloc, part of which will include a clause outlining how sport should be treated when EU regulators in Brussels draft legislation in the future.

''Does Europe really wish to reduce sport to nothing more than a dull, one-dimensional commercial transaction? I am turning to you...because you represent the last hope for a healthy and balanced future for football,'' the letter says.

REUTERS SSC RK2100

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