Charlie Stillitano, the man behind the International Champions Cup, has insisted he “would personally not want a closed league” after appearing to advocate a breakaway European Super League.
Stillitano met with executives from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United in London last month before discussing on radio the merits of a closed competition – a move which may open up a power vacuum across the game.
Speaking on his radio show afterwards, he said: “Let’s call it the money pot created by soccer and fandom around the world. Who has had more of an integral role? Manchester United or Leicester?
“It’s a wonderful story but you could see it from Manchester United’s point of view too.”
With £5.136bn of domestic television rights cash destined to flood through English football next season, a breakaway competition has been suggested as one alternative to replace the Champions League and safeguard the elite from the unpredictable nature of qualification.
Such a move would likely clip the wings on any efforts made by unfancied sides like Leicester, top of the Premier League by seven points with six matches remaining, to challenge themselves at European level.
Speaking to BBC Radio Leicester on Monday, Stillitano insisted: “I think honestly that was misquoted. When the report came out, it’s fair to say my comments were unfairly treated.
“The whole conversation was about the ICC and our plans for global expansion. I was very clear that I am not the architect, I am not behind it in any way, shape or form. I was just commenting that different people are saying different things.
“You’ve had the real leaders of football talking about it, not me … some guy from New Jersey. All I was commenting on was that the conversation was out there, it’s not mine.
“And certainly, on a personal basis, I could never see a league without, let’s say Leicester, doing what they’re doing now. Isn’t that the magic of it? To have a team like Leicester participating? I was just amazed how much animosity came toward me over this.
“I would personally not want a closed league, I would want these magical teams like Leicester to be a part of this. I’ve been a fan my whole life. The stuff I’ve heard, characterising what I’ve said, and that I don’t like Leicester is so far from the truth.
“I can only say this story of Leicester … Can you imagine if they were left out of the [Champions] League after what they’ve done? It would be absurd. They are maybe the [best] sports story ever. If they win the Premier League this year, I cannot think of any accomplishment bigger than what they’re doing.”
The ICC will welcome Leicester this summer alongside 16 other clubs deemed worthy of an invite – including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain – with a lucrative but otherwise largely insignificant prize on offer.
Stillitano added: “The question was about the size of the market in Europe and how the European market grew to $9bn. I never said there isn’t room for Leicester to be a part of it.
“If I was misquoted and in some ways suggested that Leicester should not be a part of this party than I’m sorry, that was not what I said, not what I meant.
“This is a wonderful city, an example of how we should all get along and how football brings different cultures and people together. That’s as much the story as them winning.”