North Atlantic League Cup is possible by January says Old Firm chief

CELTIC chief executive Ian McLeod believes a North Atlantic League Cup could start in January 2003.

SPL chairman Lex Gold has revealed discussions are under way with officials in Holland, Belgium and Denmark about the new competition. But McLeod insists agreement between all SPL clubs could see the tournament begin this season during the winter break.

“If there was a will and a way, you could realistically say it could start next January,” said McLeod. “But there are a lot of building blocks to be put in place. You would have to have everybody agree it was a good idea in order for that to happen. That doesn’t happen very often in football but you have to remain optimistic about these things. But, if it wasn’t this January, it could be the following January.

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“The good thing about this idea is that it is not just about Celtic and Rangers. Teams like Aberdeen and Livingston would have the chance to play against Ajax, Anderlecht and Feyenoord – which can only be good for them.

“We need to make sure the other clubs are enthusiastic about it because, if they are not, there is no point pursuing it from a Scottish perspective. It has got every chance of succeeding but it depends on how motivated people are.”

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McLeod concedes the idea must have support from all 12 SPL clubs and admits, after the protracted problems over the television deal, negotiations could prove difficult.

Gold said: “We are looking at the possibility – together with the Dutch, the Belgians and the Danes – of having a North Atlantic League Cup.

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“That would start in January. We sent details of this to all the clubs yesterday and we are looking for their comments.

The top four clubs at the end of December will qualify to go into it. If any clubs are left in Europe, we will go down to the fifth team. It would start with a league system and then go to knockout semi-finals.”

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McLeod hopes success in other European competitions means Celtic will not have to compete in the new tournament. The idea is to provide the four countries’ top teams with European action after Christmas if involvement in either the Champions League or the UEFA Cup is no longer an option.

If they manage to progress in Europe, they would not take part in the new competition for that particular year – but McLeod still believes the tournament can be vital to Scottish football. He said: “We are talking about teams potentially participating in this competition, like Feyenoord, Ajax, PSV, Anderlecht, Copenhagen, and a number of those clubs would hope that they would still have a prospect of competing in Europe after Christmas.

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“The idea then would be that if you had one of the teams from those countries who were in the top four in December still participating in Europe after Christmas, that place would go to the fifth club in that individual country.”

McLeod continued: “UEFA haven’t had the opportunity to give material comment to what has been suggested so far, but the intention was very much to make sure this would be a complimentary competition and not one that would be in conflict.

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“It’s going round the leagues of the individual countries involved at the moment to make sure they think it’s a good idea and UEFA are happy to endorse it when it comes forward as a proper proposal.”