I dream of an £8.5bn European league: Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis proposes radical football shake-up - and qualification would be based on merit unlike Super League
As Napoli begin their campaign to win the second European trophy in their history at Leicester on Thursday night, president Aurelio De Laurentiis has issued a stark warning to the continent's top clubs — change or be forgotten.
In an exclusive interview with Sportsmail, De Laurentiis — a prominent film producer who has owned Napoli for nearly two decades — revealed he is working on a proposal that he says will be worth '€10billion (£8.5bn)' to the European game.
Though he disagreed with the proposal to launch a European Super League, De Laurentiis believes the allure of winning the Champions League or Europa League is forcing clubs to spend beyond their means in the race to stay competitive — and the prize money does not plug the gaps.
That is why De Laurentiis wants a more lucrative pan-European league where qualification is based on clubs' performances, rather than the formula of the Super League, where teams were invited to compete regardless of domestic performance.
'The system doesn't work any more,' argues De Laurentiis. 'The Champions and Europa League don't generate sufficient income for the clubs to justify participating in it.
'To be competitive, you need more top-class players. That means you have to spend more money — and the prize money from the European competitions doesn't account for that.
'That is why the clubs need to speak to each other to come up with a more modern and lucrative tournament for everyone in it.
'We need to reduce the number of games by reducing the size of the top divisions across Europe. Also, we create a European league with a democratic system of entry, based on what teams achieve in their domestic competitions. I have examined a project ready to bring €10bn to the European game, but we need willingness and total independence.'
De Laurentiis bought Napoli in 2004 when they were in financial oblivion and playing in the third division. After former player Diego Maradona died last year, they renamed their stadium after him.
Napoli quickly returned to Serie A and while they have not won the title since Maradona delivered two of them, they have consistently been one of the best teams in the country.
This season, they have claimed maximum points from their first three matches, including a 2-1 win over Juventus on Saturday. They represent a stern test for Leicester and have Victor Osimhen and David Ospina cleared to play despite recent trips to red-list countries.
De Laurentiis is a huge fan of English football — 'we Italians must learn from it' – yet he and owners fear young people are turning their backs on football.
'If we don't change the rules of the game and make it a better spectacle, young people will abandon us and football will no longer be the central part of our lives,' warned De Laurentiis, 72. 'My research tells me that people between the ages of eight and 25 have stopped watching football and prefer playing with smartphones — they have totally transformed our children.
'I'm not saying that the habit of watching live football in a stadium will die, but now we have the 'virtual stadium', which can attract billions of people to play games against each other.
'Who knows if we will manage to get them back down the route of the greatest and most influential sport in the world?'