The announcement made on April 18 by a group of 12 leading European football clubs about the creation of a break-away European Super League has sparked a range of negative reactions from governing bodies, players, fans and even some top political leaders. Both French President Emmanuel Macron and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued statements condemning the scheme. President Macron defined the plan for a new closed Super League as a “project threatening the principle of solidarity and sporting merit,” the Élysée Palace told AFP. Boris Johnson said via his official Twitter account that the project would be “very damaging for football.”
It is not clear at this stage, however, whether the move is designed to prevent UEFA, the 66-year-old European governing body for football, from going ahead with an alternative expanded format for its European Champions League that would involve 36 instead of 32 teams like now, starting with the 2024/25 season. Each club would be guaranteed a minimum of ten games agaist 10 different opponents. This more democratic “European-style” scheme is expected to bring in more exposure and more revenues for smaller clubs, while increasing the number of annual matches from 125 to 225.
Staging matches in a closed format between them in the middle of the week, the more exclusive Super League project could bring an extra $400 million a year into the coffers of each of the participating clubs, which have been depleded by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to The New York Times. It would also provide additional exposure for Adidas, Nike, Puma and other major sponsors that support them. JP Morgan has already pledged a loan of between €3 billion and €6 billion, to be shared in the form of a “welcome bonus” between the clubs, to get the new competition off the ground, possibly from next August. Its long-term survival would be ensured by the participants’ commitment to ”uncapped solidarity payments which will grow in line with league revenues.” They would be substantially higher than what they are getting through the current Champions League.
The Super League has been designed as a tournament among 20 selected clubs, including 15 founding members. Only 12 teams from England, Italy and Spain have signed up to the plan so far. They are Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus. Some of them have already resigned from UEFA’s European Club Association.
According to The Guardian, however, Chelsea and Manchester City have indicated that they are having second thoughts, following the reactions against the project. Three other clubs – Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain – have reportedly been approached about the project, but have declined the offer. The idea is to start with 15 clubs that would compete each year with five other clubs that scored well in their national leagues during the previous season. Annual tournaments would last from August to May.
UEFA and the English, French, Italian and Spanish football leagues have reacted violently to the announcement of the Super League, threatening to ban the clubs and the players involved in the scheme from their national, European and international competitions, possibly including the FIFA World Cup. At a press conference staged immediately after the Sunday announcement, Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, referred to the 12 initial signatories of the project as “snakes” that are “spitting in the face of football lovers” with a “disgraceful and self-serving” move motivated by money.
UEFA has convened an extraordinary executive committee meeting on Friday April 23 to discuss the issue.
The Super League is due to be chaired by Florentino Perez, president of Real Madrid, who has been calling for such a project since 2009. He wanted the best teams to play against each other, claiming that many young people were not interested in European football because they are confronted with a lot of poor-quality games.
The idea of such a superior, closed format has been in discussion since at least 1998, when it was proposed by Italy’s Media Partners with the support of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The proposal was ditched after UEFA decided on a first expansion of the Champions League, with the support of 12 major clubs. The idea of a Super League remained under discussion, however, until UEFA decided in 2016 that the English, Italian, Spanish and German leagues would be able to name four instead of three participants from the start of each annual championship between 2018 and 2021. Last autumn, according to Sky Sports, FIFA proposed an alternative tournament called European Premier League, involving up to 18 teams, but then last Jan. 21, FIFA discarded the idea, under pressure from six continental football confederations.