Eredivisie and Jupiler Pro League – the top division football leagues in the Netherlands and Belgium respectively – are reportedly considering a merger into a single competition to evade strong competition from other European league giants.
While talks are said to be at a preliminary stage, the concept of a Benelux League has been discussed by football administrators from both the countries. The idea, which has existed for some time, was championed by former Uefa president Michel Platini, who once described the concept as important in “making European football as strong as possible”.
In 2009, then-director of the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) Henk Kesler criticised Platini’s plans, telling UK newspaper the Guardian: “We looked into this years ago. Clubs weren’t interested. Personally, I don’t believe in it.”
However, while the move to create a cross-border division would be viewed as radical, it would also be seen as an attempt to curb the dominance of other European leagues, including England’s Premier League, Spanish top tier La Liga, French Ligue 1, Italian Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga, British daily ‘I’ has reported.
The increasing economic shift in European football has seen Dutch and Belgian clubs struggle in continental competitions in recent years, resulting in increased urgency and enthusiasm for a possible merger. While Amsterdam-based giants Ajax have won the Uefa Champions League on four occasions, they have not reached a final since 1996. PSV Eindhoven are the only Dutch side to have reached a semi-final this century.
Although Scotland is not said to have participated in the initial Benelux talks, the Scottish Premier League (SPL) has also previously been mooted as a possible beneficiary of a cross-nation setup, whether alongside Dutch and Belgian outfits, or as part of a Scandinavian alliance.
However, the decision to push the two top-tier leagues together would require agreement from individual clubs, increasing the difficulty of coming to a successful conclusion. Smaller clubs would likely fear for their future in a new premier division, with the probability of nine teams from each country making up the new league.
According to the report, Uefa are said to be understanding of the issues facing the domestic leagues of smaller soccer-playing nations.
A spokesperson for the European soccer governing body told the I: “Domestic competitions are the foundation of football in Europe. Though transnational competitions have been mentioned in some cases, there are currently no concrete proposals on the table.
“Any such idea or proposal would only be discussed by Uefa if submitted by its national associations, with their clubs and leagues, as this could be a strategic development in some European regions.”