China's richest man is backing plans to launch a rival to the Uefa Champions League, aiming for European leagues and clubs to join a new competition that would redraw the power structure and finances at the top of the sport.
Dalian Wanda Group, the property and entertainment conglomerate run by billionaire Wang Jianlin, said it is in talks with the game's power brokers across the continent to create a breakaway tournament to Europe's most prestigious club competition.
Wanda is promising more places for the sport's heavyweight teams and a steep increase in broadcasting rights revenues.
The ambitious proposals are part of China's designs on conquering the world's most popular sport — on and off the pitch.
Chinese groups have spent billions of dollars acquiring stakes in European football clubs and sports companies in recent years. This buying spree was sparked by President Xi Jinping, whose stated desire is to transform football-mad China into a "great sports nation" capable of winning a World Cup.
Marco Bogarelli, strategic director of Wanda Sports Holding, the privately owned Chinese group's sports arm, said its aim was to gain participation from the national leagues in Europe's "big five" TV markets — England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany — that contribute the majority of Champions League broadcasting revenues.
"Many talented players are deciding to play in Asia instead of coming to Europe," he said. "One day, Asia will have the money for Cristiano Ronaldo to play there . . . It is in the common interest for these five leagues to have football growing in Europe [in order to] maintain its leadership."
He said talks have begun with Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A, with plans to initiate discussions with England's Premier League, Germany's Bundesliga and France's Ligue 1 after the Euro 2016 championships, which stages its final match on Sunday.
Wanda also hopes to win backing from Uefa, European football's governing body, but is willing to propose a separate competition should it object to the plans. "There has to be a future that has more freedom, based on the needs of the clubs and the leagues where they can make a choice," said Mr Bogarelli.
A senior executive at one of the big five leagues said: "This is very well planned. The proposal is realistic."
Uefa is already under pressure to enact major changes to the existing Champions League, the lucrative annual competition that pits Europe's top teams against each other, as clubs push to secure greater financial rewards.
"It is not the first time that there has been speculation regarding the possibility of a breakaway league, and it probably won't be the last," said Theodore Theodoridis, Uefa's interim general secretary.
"When taking any decisions, we will take into account not only financial rewards to clubs but also the greater good of the game and its development across the continent."
Two people familiar with the talks said the proposals were being driven by the interests of a "handful" of clubs in Spain and Italy, particularly Real Madrid, last season's Champions League winners and the highest-earning club in the world. Real Madrid did not respond to requests for comment.