European soccer was rocked by the biggest story in at least a generation Sunday when 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs announced plans to break away from the established soccer order and form a Super League. The development has the potential to remake the European soccer landscape dramatically, and there is still much that isn’t known about what’s ahead.
The basics? A group of 12 clubs from across Europe’s biggest leagues announced plans to form a new competition called the Super League. The league, should it be established, would offer permanent spots to some of the world’s biggest clubs and play matches midweek, while allowing the involved clubs to remain in their domestic competitions. This plan is currently opposed by FIFA and UEFA, the governing bodies for international and European soccer, respectively.
Here’s what else we do know so far.
What’s the latest news?
UEFA is threatening legal action against those 12 teams and could, in theory, ban them from future competitions. Jesper Møller, Danish FA chairman and UEFA ExCo member said to Danish outlet DR Sport that semifinalists involved in the Super League — Real Madrid, Chelsea and Man City — will be expelled from this season’s competition, along with the remaining breakaway participants, by Friday.
“[Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea] are going out, and I expect that to happen on Friday,” Møller said. “And then you have to see how to finish the Champions League.”
The group of 12 have responded by sending letter to FIFA and UEFA leaders, informing them that the Super League has already taken legal action to protect anyone looking to block their competition. The Associated Press obtained the following letter:
“We are concerned that FIFA and UEFA may respond to this invitation letter by seeking to take punitive measures to exclude any participating club or player from their respective competitions
“Your formal statement does, however, compel us to take protective steps to secure ourselves against such an adverse reaction, which would not only jeopardize the funding commitment under the Grant but, significantly, would be unlawful. For this reason, SLCo (Super League Company) has filed a motion before the relevant courts in order to ensure the seamless establishment and operation of the Competition in accordance with applicable laws.
“It is our duty, as SLCo’s board members, to ensure that all reasonable actions available to protect the interests of the Competition and our stakeholders are duly taken, given the irreparable damage that would be suffered if, for any reason, we were deprived of the opportunity to form promptly the Competition and distribute the proceeds of the Grant.”
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What is the Super League?
The Super League is a long-discussed idea for a closed competition that would feature Europe’s biggest clubs. Over the years, there have been many different theoretical proposals for what that league would look like. On Sunday, 12 clubs made it official, announcing their plans to break away from Europe’s governing body, UEFA, and forming their own league. They plan to add three more permanent members and leave five spots open in the 20-team format that European clubs could qualify for from across Europe’s domestic competitions.
Which teams are involved?
The 12 teams currently listed as founding members:
- Arsenal (currently 9th in EPL)
- Chelsea (currently 5th in EPL)
- Liverpool (currently 6th in EPL)
- Manchester City (currently 1st in EPL)
- Manchester United (currently 2nd in EPL)
- Tottenham Hotspur (currently 7th in EPL)
- Atletico Madrid (currently 1st in La Liga)
- Barcelona (currently 3rd in La Liga)
- Real Madrid (currently 2nd in La Liga)
- AC Milan (currently 2nd in Serie A)
- Inter Milan (currently 1st in Serie A)
- Juventus (currently 4th in Serie A)
In addition to these 12 teams, the founders expect to add three more permanent teams as well as five per season from the rest of Europe through an unknown invitation or qualification process.
Which notable teams are not included?
So far, several of Europe’s biggest teams have not officially signed onto the project. Borussia Dortmund chief executive officer Hans Joachim Watzke says his team has no intention of joining in the next couple of weeks. RB Leipzig will not join, sources tell CBS Sports insider Fabrizio Romano.
Watzke also stressed that “both German clubs on the ECA board, FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, shared exactly the same stance throughout all discussions.”
“I’m focused on different topics, but I can say that the Super League wouldn’t be good for European football,” Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick said on Monday. Flick is expected to leave the club to become the German national team manager at season’s end.
“FC Bayern did not participate in the planning of a Super League. We are convinced that the current statics in football guarantee a serious basis. FC Bayern welcomes the reforms of the Champions League because we believe that they are the right step for the development of European football. The modified preliminary round will contribute to more tension and emotionality in the competition.
“I don’t think the Super League will solve the financial problems of European clubs that were caused by coronavirus. Rather, all clubs in Europe should work in solidarity to ensure that the cost structure, in particular the players’ salaries and the fees for the consultants, are adjusted to the income in order to make European football more rational.”
It’s worth noting that the 50+1 clause was written into the German league back in 1998. It forces members of the club (by extension, the fans) to control the majority of the voting rights to prevent a ownership takeovers similar to what we have seen in other teams in top leagues that are now forcing their way into a breakaway league.
Notably, among Europe’s elite clubs, current UEFA Champions League semifinalists Paris Saint-Germain are not among the teams making up the Super League. It’s worth noting that Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the head of Qatar Sports Investments, which owns and operates PSG, also holds a seat in the UEFA executive committee. He was elected to his UEFA position back in 2019.
Pinto da Costa, president of FC Porto, confirmed his side will not be joining a league that against UEFA rules.
“There were informal contacts from some clubs, but we did not pay much attention for two reasons. First, the European Union does not allow a closed circuit of evidence as there is in the NBA. Second, since our association is against this and part of UEFA, within this framework, we cannot participate in anything that is against the rules of the European Union and UEFA.
“If that goes forward, and I have my doubts, UEFA will not end and will continue to have evidence, the evidence that is official,” da Costa said.
Who is in charge of the Super League?
The first head of the Super League is Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who will serve as chairman. He’s supported by two vice-chairmen. Here’s the full list:
- Chairman: Florentino Perez (Real Madrid)
- Vice-chairman: Andrea Agnelli (Juventus)
- Vice-chairman: Joel Glazer (Manchester United)
What about the financial backing?
The estimated earnings for would-be fixtures signing up to the proposed Super League are at least $425 million. Each of the would-be permanent members of the proposed Super League are being promised €350 million ($425 million) to sign up, per documents obtained by the New York Times.
JP Morgan Chase & Co. were reportedly approached to raise financing for the project that has seen FIFA back UEFA by threatening to ban any players involved in such a league from future World Cup competition.
Here’s what the Super League had to say in their announcement:
The new annual tournament will provide significantly greater economic growth and support for European football via a long-term commitment to uncapped solidarity payments which will grow in line with league revenues. These solidarity payments will be substantially higher than those generated by the current European competition and are expected to be in excess of €10 billion during the course of the initial commitment period of the Clubs. In addition, the competition will be built on a sustainable financial foundation with all Founding Clubs signing up to a spending framework. In exchange for their commitment, Founding Clubs will receive an amount of €3.5 billion solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic.
Weren’t there plans to reformat the Champions League?
UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA) on Monday released the finalized version of an updated format to the Champions League this season, switching the tournament to a “Swiss Model.”
Gone are the days of six group-stage games. Instead, UEFA plans to expand from 32 to 36 participants and have each play 10 group stage games, five home and five away. This shift produces over 100 new matches. We would still see a pretty similar knockout stage compared to this current season. The big difference is that the winner of the competition would have played at least 17 matches as opposed to 13 under the current format.
Agnelli, who was the ECA chairman, has now resigned from his seat to join the Super League. Rummenigge, Bayern’s CEO, is expected to take Agnelli’s seat at ECA and UEFA.
The ECA held an emergency meeting Sunday before issuing the following statement:
In light of today’s reports on the subject of a so-called breakaway league, ECA as the body representing 246 leading clubs across Europe, reiterates its stated commitment to working on developing the UEFA Club Competitions (UCCs) model with UEFA for the cycle beginning 2024 and that a ‘closed super league model’ to which media articles refer would be strongly opposed by ECA.
ECA would refer to the position adopted by its Executive Board at its meeting last Friday 16th April, namely that it supports a commitment to work with UEFA on a renewed structure for European Club Football as a whole post 2024, including proposed changes to the UEFA Club Competitions post 2024. With ECA’s support, UEFA’s Executive Committee is being asked to endorse these commitments at its meeting on 19th April along with pursuing efforts to reach an agreement on the future relationship between ECA and UEFA.
The ECA Executive Board will be convening over the coming days to take appropriate decisions in light of any further developments.
Has UEFA responded?
On Monday, in a fiery press conference, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin emphasized the potential consequences for players participating in the league. “The players that will play in the Super League will be banned from playing in the World Cup and Euros. Ceferin. “They will not be allowed play for their national teams,” he said while also calling on teams participating in the Super League to be banned from all UEFA competitions.
UEFA has taken a hardline stance against the proposed Super League. On Sunday as news of the possible breakaway occurred, Europe’s governing soccer body released the following statement:
“If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we — UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, La Liga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations — will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever, UEFA said in a statement.
“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.
“As previously announced by FIFA and the six Federations, 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.
“We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”
Has FIFA responded?
Back in January, FIFA announced it wouldif they were to join a breakaway league. On Sunday, in response to the Super League announcement, FIFA reaffirmed its stance.
In view of several media requests and as already stated several times, FIFA wishes to clarify that it stands firm in favor of solidarity in football and an equitable redistribution model which can help develop football as a sport, particularly at global level, since the development of global football is the primary mission of FIFA.
In our view, and in accordance with our statutes, any football competition, whether national, regional or global, should always reflect the core principles of solidarity, inclusivity, integrity and equitable financial redistribution. Moreover, the governing bodies of football should employ all lawful, sporting and diplomatic means to ensure this remains the case. 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.
FIFA always stands for unity in world football and calls on all parties involved in heated discussions to engage in calm, constructive and balanced dialogue for the good of the game and in the spirit of solidarity and fair play. FIFA will, of course, do whatever is necessary to contribute to a harmonized way forward in the overall interests of football.
What about the major domestic leagues?
In addition to the joint statement sent out by the major federations in Europe, the Premier League also issued a statement condemning plans from their big six on Sunday.
“The Premier League condemns any proposal that attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart of the domestic and European football pyramid. Fans of any club in England and across Europe can currently dream that their team may climb to the top and play against the best. We believe that the concept of a European Super League would destroy this dream.”
Here’s what the FA said:
“The FA has been made aware of certain English clubs planning to form a closed European Super League with other European Clubs. It is clear that this would be damaging to English and European football at all levels and will attack the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are fundamental to competitive sport.
“For new competitions to be formed involving clubs from different associations, approval would be required from the relevant National Associations, confederation and/or FIFA. We would not provide permission to any competition that would be damaging to English football, and will take any legal and/or regulatory action necessary to protect the broader interests of the game.
“We note FIFA confirmed earlier this year that they and the six confederations would not recognize any such competition and, as such, any player or club involved may not be permitted to participate in any official competition which falls within the auspices of FIFA or their respective confederation.
“The FA will continue to work with UEFA, FIFA and the Premier League to seek to ensure that nothing is approved that has the potential to damage English football. We will work with fans, The Premier League, EFL, PFA and LMA, as well as other stakeholders, at home and abroad, to defend the integrity and future prospects of English football in the best interests of the game.”
And the English Football League’s statement:
The EFL stands with the Premier League, The FA, PFA, LMA, the FSA and colleagues across European professional football in condemnation of proposals which attack the foundation of open and fair competition upon which our game is built.
A strong pyramid based on promotion, relegation and ultimately European qualification, is fundamental to our game’s continued success. The EFL opposes any reform that doesn’t support competition integrity or offer Clubs the prospect of one day competing at the highest end of the game.
The Spanish league chimed in on Monday:
“LaLiga strongly condemns the recently published proposal for a breakaway, elitist European competition that attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart of the domestic and European football pyramid.
“Today football fans across Europe can dream that their club, no matter the size, may excel, climb to the top and compete at the pinnacle of European football. LaLiga defends this European tradition of football for all. The concept proposed by 12 European clubs destroys that dream, shutting the door to the top of European football, allowing in just an elite few.
“LaLiga has a proud, 90-year history as an open, merit-based competition. Millions of fans around the world follow the 42 clubs of LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank. The success of our competitions has helped football to become a key contributor to the Spanish economy, accounting for nearly 1.4% of GDP and providing employment for nearly 200,000 people.
“The newly proposed top European competition is nothing more than a selfish, egotistical proposal designed to further enrich the already super rich. It will undermine the appeal of the whole game and have a deeply damaging impact on the immediate and future of LaLiga, its member clubs, and all the entire footballing ecosystem.
“In addition, the breakaway league threatens the rest of Spanish sports to which, in the current season, LaLiga will contribute more than 126 million euros as part of its agreement with the Spanish government and the Spanish FA.
“This destruction of the European football ecosystem will also ultimately cause the failure of this new competition and its participating clubs, which have built their success based on the achievement of sports titles and triumphs, which will now be more limited.
“We use all measures at our disposal and work with all stakeholders to defend the integrity and future of Spanish football in the best interests of the game.”
How would the Super League be formatted?
The Super League would be a 20-team league made up of 15 permanent members with the remaining five members of the league comprised of teams which qualified through domestic European League competition. The 20 teams would compete in two groups of 10 teams each with a balanced schedule of home and away matches against every team in the group.
The top three finishers in each group would qualify for the quarterfinals, while the fourth- and fifth-place finishers would play in a two-legged play-in round to qualify for the knockout stages. Then a two-legged knockout format would be used to play down to the finals, which would be a single match to crown a champion.
From the Super League announcement:
- 20 participating clubs with 15 Founding Clubs and a qualifying mechanism for a further five teams to qualify annually based on achievements in the prior season.
- Midweek fixtures with all participating clubs continuing to compete in their respective national leagues, preserving the traditional domestic match calendar which remains at the heart of the club game.
- An August start with clubs participating in two groups of 10, playing home and away fixtures, with the top three in each group automatically qualifying for the quarterfinals. Teams finishing fourth and fifth will then compete in a two-legged play-off for the remaining quarterfinal positions. A two-leg knockout format will be used to reach the final at the end of May, which will be staged as a single fixture at a neutral venue.
What would this mean for women’s soccer?
On Sunday, Paris Saint-Germain turned in a come-from-behind effort to slay five-time winner Lyon in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. PSG join Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Chelsea in the semifinal round. If a breakaway league were to be formed, at least two of those clubs would be involved in what could be a new competition, but it doesn’t appear that it would begin play the same time as the men’s breakaway league.
“As soon as practicable after the start of the men’s competition, a corresponding women’s league will also be launched, helping to advance and develop the women’s game,” according to the announcement from the Super League.
What are ex-players, coaches and execs saying?
Gary Neville, Manchester United ex-captain, described it “an absolute disgrace” and called club owners “bottle merchants” motivated by “pure greed.”
“I’m not against the modernization of football competitions, with have the Premier League, we have the Champions League,” Neville said during Sky Sports’ broadcast of the Premier League. “But to bring forward proposals in the midst of COVID, in the midst of the economic crisis that exists for all clubs is an absolute scandal. United and the rest of the big six clubs that have signed up to it against the rest of the Premier League should be ashamed of themselves. Are Arsenal in that? They have just drawn with Fulham, Manchester United are drawing with Burnley. I cannot concentrate on the game. To sign up to the Super League during a season is a joke, they should deduct points off all six of them.”
Sir Alex Ferguson, legendary Manchester United manager, told Reuters it would end 70 years of football history.
“Talk of a Super League is a move away from 70 years of European club football,” Ferguson said. “Both as a player for a provincial team Dunfermline in the 60s and as a manager at Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup, for a small provincial club in Scotland it was like climbing Mount Everest. Everton are spending £500 million to build a new stadium with the ambition to play in Champions League. Fans all over love the competition as it is. In my time at United, we played in four Champions League finals and they were always the most special of nights. I’m not sure Manchester United are involved in this, as I am not part of the decision making process. With many fans, we are concerned that this plan could create a closed shop at the very top of our national game.”
Former Arsenal star Mesut Ozil: “Kids grow up dreaming to win the World Cup and the Champions League — not any Super League. The enjoyment of big games is that they only happen once or twice a year, not every week. Really hard to understand for all football fans out there.”
Current PSG midfielder Ander Herrera said he “cannot remain silent” and will not support the “rich stealing what the people created”:
“I fell in love with popular football, with the football of the fans, with the dream of seeing the team of my heart compete against the greatest. If this European Super League advances, those dreams are over, the illusions of fans of those teams that are not giants of being able to win on the field competing in the best competitions will end. I love football and I cannot remain silent about this, I believe in an improved Champions League, but not in the rich stealing what the people created, which is nothing other than the most beautiful sport on the planet.”
Portuguese legend Luis Figo says a Super League would be disastrous for women’s soccer:
This so-called “Super League” is anything but “Super.” Figo chimed in on Twitter on Monday. “This greedy and callous move would spell disaster for our grassroots, for women’s football, and the wider football community only to serve self-interested owners, who stopped caring about their fans long ago, and complete disregard for sporting merit. Tragic.”
Liverpool great Jamie Carragher, who is also an analyst for CBS Sports’ coverage of the Champions League, did not hold back any punches against his lifelong club:
Aside from the Royal Spanish Football Federation chiming in with UEFA and the top European domestic leagues, La Liga president Javier Tebas lashed out at the breakaway plans, which involve three Spanish clubs: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
“At last, the ‘gurus’ of the ‘powerpoint’ super league, drunk with selfishness and lack of solidarity, are going to leave the ‘5 o’clock bar,’ from the ‘underground,'” Tebas tweeted. “UEFA, the European leagues and La Liga have been working at this for a long time and they will get their due answer.”
As the news spreads more and more people around the soccer world are voicing their displeasure.
What about the prime ministers in Europe?
United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson issued the following statement of disapproval: “Plans for a European Super League would be very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action. They would strike at the heart of the domestic game, and will concern fans across the country. The clubs involved must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps.”
Johnson, along with Keir Starmer, Labour Party leader, are drawing up potential government enforced consequences for clubs if they go ahead with the Super League, Alex Wickham of Politico reports.
French president Emmanuel Macron is also condemning a breakaway league: “The President of the Republic welcomes the position of French clubs to refuse to participate in a European football Super League project threatening the principle of solidarity and sporting merit. The French State will support all steps taken by the LFP, FFF, UEFA and FIFA to protect the integrity of federal competitions, whether national or European.”
Italian prime minister Mario Draghi said on Monday he supports UEFA’s stance “to preserve national competitions, meritocratic values and the social function of sport.” Here’s what he said, according to ANSA:
“The government is carefully following the debate around the soccer Super League project and supports with determination the positions of the Italian and European soccer authorities to preserve national competitions, meritocratic values and the social function of sport”
Add the Spanish government and José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes, the country’s minister of culture and sports, among those opposing the Super League.
“The government of Spain does not support the initiative to create a soccer Super League promoted by several European clubs, including three Spanish clubs, because it understands that it has been conceived and proposed without counting on the representative organizations of this sport, both nationally and internationally.
“The minister of culture and sports, José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes, has held meetings and conversations throughout the day with the most representative parts of Spanish and continental football. Specifically, Rodríguez Uribes has spoken with the presidents of UEFA, RFEF, La Liga de Fútbol Profesional, as well as with the presidents of Fútbol Club Barcelona, Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid, the Spanish teams that support this initiative.
“The government of Spain, through its minister of culture and sports, has defended before its interlocutors that it must return to the path of dialogue and agreement in the areas of decision and organization to which these same clubs belong to achieve an agreed solution that it is convenient for football and sports, both for national and international organizations and for teams, professionals and the fans in general.
“Sportsmanship must be demonstrated through the search for broad agreement. The Government has confirmed the willingness of all parties to this dialogue throughout the talks held today with minister Rodríguez Uribes and wishes it to bear fruit with an agreement that is beneficial to all.”
Serie A clubs will meet Monday afternoon to talk about Super League situation. Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan — Italian participants of the Super League — made a surprise appearance in Monday’s meeting, Romano reports. The Premier League will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday with the 14 clubs not involved in the Super League plans, CBS Sports’ James Benge reports.
According to Romano, Spanish clubs are planning for a meeting on Thursday to discuss Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid’s position after joining Super League.