European football’s governing body, UEFA, was plunged into crisis on Sunday after 12 clubs announced they were going to join a European Super League.
“Twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs have today come together to announce they have agreed to establish a new mid-week competition, the Super League, governed by its founding clubs,” read a statement from the founding clubs: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus
No German or French clubs have committed to take part at this stage, with reigning European champions Bayern Munich, current Champions League semifinalists Paris Saint-Germain and German giants Borussia Dortmund the surprise absentees from the list, although the statement added: “It is anticipated that a further three clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season, which is intended to commence as soon as practicable.”
The 12 founders stated that the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic was a reason behind the groundbreaking move, saying: “The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model.
“Further, for a number of years, the founding clubs have had the objective of improving the quality and intensity of existing European competitions throughout each season, and of creating a format for top clubs and players to compete on a regular basis.”
The proposed league will be underwritten by debt financing from American bank JP Morgan, which helped facilitate the takeover of Manchester United by the Glazer family in 2005 – now one of the key drivers behing the Super League.
“Founding clubs will receive an amount of €3.5bn solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the Covid pandemic,” read the statement. “The new annual tournament will provide significantly greater economic growth and support for European football.”
The 12 breakaway clubs said that they “look forward to holding discussions with UEFA and FIFA to work together in partnership to deliver the best outcomes for the new League and for football as a whole,” but the European and world governing bodies slammed the plans in a robust response, threatening to expel any team that joins a Super League from all competition.
“The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams,” a statement read.
That was followed by joint statement from UEFA, the Premier League, the English Football Association, La Liga and Serie A, which described the formation of a Super League as a “cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs.“
World governing body FIFA also expressed it’s “disapproval” of the plans, saying in a statement: “Any football competition, whether national, regional or global, should always reflect the core principles of solidarity, inclusivity, integrity and equitable financial redistribution.
“Against this background, FIFA can only express its disapproval to a “closed European breakaway league” outside of the international football structures and not respecting the aforementioned principles.”
‘DFL do not agree’
German clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were not among the 12 founder clubs, despite being invited. The two clubs are yet to comment, but Christian Seifert, CEO of the German Football Association (DFL), reacted to the news via a statement, condemning the announcement as a threat to “destroy the structures of European football.”
“The DFL do not agree with any concept of a Super League,” Seifert wrote. “The economic interests of big clubs in England, Spain and Italy cannot destroy the structures that exist in the whole of European football.
“In particular, it would be irresponsible to irreparably damage the national leagues of European professional football in this way. I therefore support the joint decision of UEFA and the national leagues of England, Spain and Italy.”
‘Driven by greed’
Some of football’s biggest names, supporter groups and even the British and French governments stated their opposition to the plans.
Former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, told Reuters that a super league would be “a move away from 70 years of European club football. Fans all over love the competition as it is, I’m not sure if Manchester United are involved in this, as I am not part of the decision making process.”
“The closed shop competition will be the final nail in the coffin of European football, forsaking everything that has made it so popular and successful — sporting merit, promotion and relegation, qualification to UEFA competitions via domestic success, and financial solidarity,” a statement by Football Supporters of Europe read.
“It’s illegitimate, irresponsible, and anti-competitive by design…. it is driven exclusively by greed.”
The British Culture Minister, Oliver Dowden, echoed the sentiment that any Super League creates a “closed shop” and takes the game further away from fans.
“Football supporters are the heartbeat of our national sport and any major decisions made should have their backing,” the statement read. “With many fans, we are concerned that this plan could create a closed shop at the very top of our national game. Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that undermines this is deeply troubling and damaging for football.”
How will it work?
In their statement, the 12 founder clubs outlined the new format for their Super League, which they envisage will feature three more founder members (potentially Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain) plus five more teams, the criteria for which are yet to be confirmed.
The 20 teams will compete in two groups of ten, playing matches home and away, with the top three from each progressing to a knockout stage. The teams who finish fourth and fifth will compete to determine the final two teams in the quarterfinals.
The knockout stage will be a standard two-legged format with the final to be a single game at a neutral venue.
The founder members would like their competition to begin as early as August, with games taking midweek. For clarity: these clubs would leave the Champions League, but they still wish to compete in their national leagues, a situation which is now likely to lead to legal action.
And what about UEFA?
The news of the breakaway Super League came on Sunday night, just nine hours before UEFA’s Executive Committee were due to meet to sign off on plans for equally controversial Champions League reforms, which would see the current group stage scrapped and replaced by a so-called “Swiss Model.”
Plans by elite clubs for a Super League had always been considered brinksmanship in order to squeeze further favorable concessions out of UEFA, which is precisely what the planned UEFA reforms were.
Whether UEFA still goes ahead with its reforms given that 12 of its top clubs have broken away, remains to be seen.
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