On Monday, European football’s governing body, UEFA, was set to announce a reformed Champions League, considered to be the biggest club competition in the world. However, it got blindsided over the weekend after 12 of the biggest clubs announced a new competition, calling it the European Super League.
It has thrown European football into turmoil. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, former players and managers, and football administrators all uniting to resist the ‘breakaway’ tournament, which threatens football’s pyramid structure and could lead to stringent actions against the teams and players who take part in it, which includes a ban from playing for their national teams.
What is the European Super League?
It is a new competition formally announced on Sunday by some of the biggest teams in Europe, which are often referred to as ‘super clubs’ because of their financial might.
Which teams are taking part in it?
There are 12 founding members: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Arsenal, Chelsea, Inter, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham. Three more clubs, likely from France and Germany, are to be included as the founding members.
What will be its format?
Like the Champions League, matches of the new competition will take place mid-week so that the clubs can take part in their national leagues over the weekend. In a statement, the organisers said 20 teams will play in the Super League: apart from the 15 founding members, five more clubs will be added ‘based on their achievements in the prior season.’
The league will start in August and the clubs will be divided into two groups of 10. Matches will be played on a home-and-away basis, with the top three teams automatically qualifying for the quarterfinals while the teams ranked fourth and fifth competing in a two-legged playoff for the remaining two spots. Only the final, which will be held in May, will be a single-legged fixture.
How is it being financed?
The Financial Times reported that the league has received $6 billion in debt financing by JPMorgan and each club will be collectively given roughly $3.7 billion to spend on infrastructure. The FT also reported that the founder members are likely to receive ‘100mn-350mn euros each to join the contest’. “With expected revenues of 4 billion euros for the competition through media and sponsorship sales, clubs would receive a fixed payment of 264 euros a year,” the Financial Times reported.
Why did these clubs ‘breakaway’ to start the league?
To put it simply, it’s for the money. In their statement, the organisers said: “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.”
Initially, the clubs said they wanted changes to revenue distribution in the Champions League and demanded a bigger say in how the tournament was run commercially. The breakaway clubs felt they generated a disproportionate share of the revenue and hence felt entitled to a bigger piece of the pie. With the Super League, the top clubs have their cake and can eat it too.
What does this mean?
In essence, the 12 teams will not play in the Champions League and would instead share the revenue from the matches they play themselves. This not just undermines the UEFA, but it also will threaten the Champions League, which will lose its importance without the big clubs. The new league will be more like the NBA, where the teams are the stakeholders and have little to do with the sport’s governing bodies in the USA.
Why is the league being met with resistance?
The biggest criticism is it departs from one of the most important ethos of football – the sporting merit. It means a team, no matter how small, can earn its right to play in the biggest tournaments if they have strong performances. At the same time, no matter how big the club is, if it has a poor season, it won’t get entry into a competition. The football pyramid globally is based on this principle but that will cease to exist if the new league goes ahead as planned.
However, according to the format of the new league, the 15 ‘permanent members’ will never be relegated; that is, no matter how they perform in their respective national leagues, they will always remain in the Super League.
To put it in perspective, as things stand Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal – currently fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth respectively in the Premier League – will not qualify for next season’s Champions League. Instead, third-placed Leicester City and West Ham United, ranked fourth, will make the cut along with the top two sides, Manchester City and Manchester United.
However, if the Super League goes ahead, the four lower-placed teams will compete in the big league while Leicester and West Ham will miss out because they aren’t ‘super clubs’.
What has been the reaction?
While Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who will be the chairman of the new organisation, said they ‘will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world’, the new league has been met with fierce opposition.
Macron said France would support “all the steps” taken by football’s governing bodies to defend Europe’s existing competitions. Johnson added creating a super league would be “very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action.”
Gary Neville, former Manchester United and England defender, said the clubs were motivated by ‘pure greed.’ He told Sky Sports: “It’s pure greed, they’re impostors… Enough is enough. Deduct them all points, put them at the bottom of the league, and take their money off them… Seriously, in the midst of a pandemic, an economic crisis and these lot are having Zoom calls about breaking away and basically creating more greed? Joke.”
Will there be any action taken against the clubs?
UEFA, for whom this could turn into an existential crisis, warned the clubs that join the breakaway league would be banned from domestic and international competitions if they go ahead with their plans. They released a joint statement along with Spanish, English and Italian federations, saying they would consider ‘all measures’, including legal options, to oppose the Super League.
“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,” UEFA said.
FIFA, too, has said they will not recognise the new Super League.