LONDON – A group of the richest and most famous football clubs in the world have in principle agreed on a plan to create a breakaway European club competition that, when it comes to fruition, turns structures, economies and relationships upside down that Global football has been tied for almost a century.
After months of secret talks, the breakaway teams, which include Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea in England, and Juventus and AC Milan in Italy, could make an announcement on Sunday several people who are with are familiar with the plans.
At least 12 teams have either signed up as founding members or have expressed interest in joining the breakaway group, including six from the English Premier League, three from Spanish La Liga and three from Italian Serie A, according to the people with knowledge of the plans.
European football officials were quick to try to block the plan. The Premier League issued a statement condemning the concept and warning its members not to participate.
Officials from the European Football Association, UEFA, described the proposal for a closed super league as a “cynical project” in a strongly worded statement signed jointly by the top leagues and the football associations of England, Italy and Spain.
But UEFA also took the threat seriously. Its leaders spent the weekend discussing his options to block the plan, including the possible ban on renegade national league teams and their players from competing for their national teams at events like the World Cup. And it was a reminder to breakaway clubs (and effectively their players) that FIFA and its six regional confederations already posed a similar threat.
“We will examine all measures available to us at all levels, both in the judiciary and in sport, to prevent this from happening,” the UEFA statement said. “Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit. it cannot be otherwise. “
Nonetheless, UEFA has also started liaising with European Union lawmakers in the hopes that the bloc can strengthen its hand in maintaining the status quo.
The teams committed to the Super League plan are currently limited to nearly a dozen clubs from Spain, Italy and England. A cohort of six teams from the Premier League – United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham – represents the largest group from a single country. Atlético Madrid are the other team from Spain to have supported the project, while Milan’s rivals Internazionale and AC Milan would join Juventus to represent Italy.
But the leaders of the breakaway group tried to get other top teams such as the German FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund as well as the French champions Paris St.-Germain to get involved. To date, these clubs – and others – have refused to move away from the national structures and continental competitions that have underpinned European football for generations.
PSG have been invited, for example, but have so far opposed the overtures. Its president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, sits on the UEFA board and also heads beIN Media Group, the Qatar-based television network that paid UEFA millions of dollars for the right to broadcast Champions League matches.
The New York Times contacted a number of clubs involved in the runaway plans, but all declined to comment or did not respond. A UEFA spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.
However, the Premier League has written to its 20 clubs warning members that their rules prohibit clubs from participating in outside competitions without prior approval. A statement said it “condemns any proposal that attacks the principles of open competition”.
The timing of the Sunday news seemed designed to overshadow UEFA’s plan to ratify a reshaped Champions League on Monday. That competition would be decimated by the departure of its largest teams.
The effects of a split between European football and its most famous, most visited and richest clubs would be seismic for all concerned. Without the top teams, UEFA and the leagues would demand reimbursements in the millions from the broadcasters who pay billions for television rights to tournaments. The clubs would lose revenue streams that could cripple their budgets as European football continues to emerge from the financial turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and a ban on national team play could affect their ability to recruit top talent.
Among the most notable teams in the breakaway group is Juventus, the Italian serial champion. Its chairman, Andrea Agnelli, also heads the European Club Association, an umbrella organization for more than 200 top clubs, most of which will be banned from the proposed Super League. He is also a member of the UEFA Executive Committee. When Agnelli was asked by The Times earlier that year to discuss his role in the talks of a breakaway league, he brushed the idea off as a “rumor”.
According to documents examined by The Times in January, plans for the breakaway league had gained momentum since the summer. Top clubs tried to capitalize on the uncertainty in the football industry caused by the pandemic to find a new path that would guarantee them some level of financial stability, but almost certainly at a significant – and potentially devastating – value and security Loss of sales would result for teams excluded from the project.
Each of the potential permanent members of the proposed Super League will be promised € 350 million, or $ 425 million, for signing up, the filing says.
According to the proposals considered at the time, the Superliga, which was due to play its games mid-week, tried to recruit 16 top soccer franchises as permanent members and add four qualifiers from national competitions. The clubs would be split into two groups of ten, with the top four teams in each group qualifying for the knockout round and culminating in a final that would take place over a weekend.
The event would, according to records, generate hundreds of millions of dollars of additional revenue for the participating teams, which are already the richest clubs in the sport. (An alternate version of the plan proposed 15 permanent members and five qualification spots.) The group had started discussions with JPMorgan Chase & Co. to increase funding for the project, according to persons aware. The company has so far refused to comment.
UEFA found a powerful ally against the plans of FIFA, the global governing body of football. FIFA warned that any player participating in such an unapproved league will be banned from participating in the World Cup. The statement came after UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin asked for support from his FIFA counterpart Gianni Infantino and there was speculation that the runaway would have FIFA’s support.
European football leaders huddled on the phone and at video conference over the weekend to forge a counterattack. Finding a solution to the possible loss of the biggest brands in football is not an easy task, however. The Premier League, for example, would lose much of its luster – and almost certainly much of the commercial appeal that made it the richest league in football – should it banish its top six teams.
As member-owned clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid would likely need the support of thousands of their fans before officially joining, and any German clubs willing to participate would face similar obstacles. Everyone can count on strong internal opposition; Fan groups from across Europe had already voiced opposition since details of plans for a super league became known earlier this year.