The Italian Football League is on the verge of spliting in two after a meeting with Serie A and Serie B club owners ended without coming to an agreement over financial issues - delaying the election of a new President.
The top two leagues, which have been governed by the Lega Nazionale Professionisti (Lega Calcio) since 1946, have been at loggerheads for years over how money from television and commercial rights are distributed evenly between each of the 42-member clubs.
The matter has come to the fore recently following a number of Serie B clubs encountering financial difficulties while Serie A clubs have complained about not getting a bigger slice of revenue to compete against their English and Spanish counterparts in European competition.
In the latest meeting in Milan today - the fourth such gathering in the space of two months - an agreement has again failed to materialise and Serie A presidents have now confirmed that they plan to break away from the second tier and create their own independent top flight in time for the 2010/11 season - the year that will see television rights in Italy sold collectively again.
"Nineteen Serie A clubs today decided to create the 'Lega Calcio Serie A' with Maurizio Beretta put in charge," read a joint statement from the Serie A clubs.
"The decision was made because of the impossibility of reaching an understanding with the Serie B clubs."
It is believed that only relegation-threatened Lecce voted against the proposal.
"The decision of the 19 Serie A clubs is in line with the European scenario: it should thus be seen as a normal evolution towards more modern norms of professional football," continued the statement. "It's intended to valorise all the components of the competition, starting from Serie B, the division which supports the highest league."
Beretta, a former manager at Fiat and state television broadcaster RAI, has been given the role of interim President to steer the transition and form the new league.
"I am honoured to put myself at the service of the clubs to adopt a more European and international approach in a sector where we have the potential for extraordinary results," said Beretta.
"The mandate is clear, we will take the first steps to construct a 'Lega Calcio Serie A' and there are several details that need to be whittled down. The process will develop over the next 12 months."
The current Serie B clubs, who now face an uncertain future, have reacted furiously to the developments while current Lega Calcio President Antonio Matarrese called it "a sad day".
"It is a sad day," Matarrese said. "It's likely that riches cause problems in families and some people can get drunk on too much money. It's one thing to say you're going to do this and another to actually do it, as there's a long way to go yet."
Palermo President Maurizio Zamparini first announced the news following the meeting: "We have created a new league for Serie A. It's not satisfactory but it was necessary.
"This time it's for real," he said, referring to repeated past threats of a split.
Former Lega Calcio President and now AC Milan vice-President Adriano Galliani announced further details of the plan. "We are starting work now so that this 'Lega Calcio Serie A' can be operational from July 1 2010," he said.
"Next season (2009-10) there should be no particular problems because we have already agreed on the division of money within Serie A and between Serie A and B. From 2010 there will be separate Lega bodies for Serie A and B. We have already told the President of the Italian Football Federation Giancarlo Abete."
Serie B clubs released their own joint statement following the meeting. "After approving the general guidelines, the board was asked to vote on the rule proposed by Serie A that would effectively have cut Serie B's power out of the general assembly meetings," the statement read.
"When this move was not approved, the Serie A presidents abandoned the meeting and handed Maurizio Beretta the mandate to form a new Lega just for the top flight.
"Serie B expressed its deep dissent for both the decision and the way it was handled, as clearly this has been planned for a long time. We will vigorously make our voices heard to the authorities and defend the needs of professional football, which are not recognised in the interests of the big clubs."
Gianfranco Andreoletti, who acts as the President of Serie B inside Lega Calcio, said the second division clubs would appeal to the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and the Italian government.
The FIGC, Italian football's governing body, has said it will listen to the various positions over the next few days and that the "critical situation" will be at the top of the agenda at an urgent Federal Council meeting on Tuesday 5 May.
By law, the Federation will have to take over the running of the Lega Calcio if the member clubs are not able to reach an agreement. At that point, either the FIGC will succeed in reaching some kind of mediated settlement or, more likely, Serie A will break away, albeit with the blessing of the Federation, because doing so outside the FIGC's control would create serious problems with UEFA and FIFA, and Italy's involvement in European and international competition.
In England, the Premier League broke away from three other English Football Leagues in a similar move in 1992 and has gone on to become one of the most strongest, lucrative and successful domestic sports leagues in the world.
However, clubs in the English lower leagues have struggled to compete financially - both in terms of transfer fees and player wages - compared against the bigger clubs.
Elsewhere in Europe, the top two tiers in France (Ligue 1 & Ligue 2), Germany (Bundesliga 1 & Bundesliga 2) and Spain (Primera Division & Segunda Division) are run by one single governing body each.
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