Over the weekend, 12 of Europe’s leading soccer clubs announced that they have agreed to form a European Super League, which would bring about one of the most seismic changes to the game in a generation.
As clubs, leagues and governing bodies around the world react to the news, SportsPro presents a rundown of what we know so far about the proposed breakaway competition.
What is the European Super League?
The European Super League (ESL) is a new 20-team breakaway competition that 12 clubs from across Europe have agreed to join as founding members, positioning the tournament as a direct rival to the existing Uefa Champions League.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have signed up from England. Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid from Spain are also on board, as are Italian sides AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus.
A further three clubs are expected to join, taking the total number of founding members to 15. An additional five teams will qualify annually.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has been named chairman of the ESL, while Andrea Agnelli of Juventus, Liverpool owner John Henry and Manchester United’s Joel Glazer will serve as vice chairmen.
How will it work?
The ESL would see teams play in the competition midweek while continuing to compete in their respective domestic leagues.
The format would see the 20-team ESL spilt into two groups of ten, with teams playing each other home and away. The top three in each group would qualify for the quarter-finals, with the teams finishing fourth and fifth playing a two-legged playoff for the remaining two spots.
The ESL would then feature the same two-leg knockout format used in the Champions League. The final would take place in May at a neutral venue.
When will it start?
The ESL ‘is intended to commence as soon as practicable’, according to a statement released by the league, which is proposing a general August start for when the inaugural season does get underway. There are also plans for a corresponding women’s league to be launched in the future.
Who is backing it?
American investment bank JPMorgan Chase & Co has confirmed to various media outlets that it will be financing the project for as much as US$6 billion, according to reports. The ESL said that, ‘in exchange for their commitment’, the founding clubs will receive an initial €3.5 billion (US$4.2 billion) ‘solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the Covid pandemic’.
The clubs have agreed to repay €264 million (US$317 million) each year to JP Morgan to pay down the debt, including interest of between two and three per cent, according to the Financial Times.
Why has it been announced now?
Talk of a Super League has rumbled on for years, but Uefa has been under increasing pressure from Europe’s top clubs to reform the Champions League. As a result, European soccer’s governing body is proposing a new 36-team Champions League in a bid to quell the Super League plans.
However, the 12 clubs involved in the ESL believe the changes do not go far enough. They also say that Covid-19 has ‘accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model’.
‘In recent months extensive dialogue has taken place with football stakeholders regarding the future format of European competitions’, the statement said. ‘The founding clubs believe the solutions proposed following these talks do not solve fundamental issues, including the need to provide higher-quality matches and additional financial resources for the overall football pyramid.’
What have the ESL clubs said?
In a lengthy announcement, the ESL’s founding clubs maintained that the breakaway league will ultimately benefit European soccer as it will generate more money than the Champions League and, therefore, greater distribution of revenue throughout the game.
‘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 statement read.
It continued: ‘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.'
What has the reaction been like?
News of the ESL was leaked before its official announcement. The backlash has been fierce.
Notably, world soccer’s governing body Fifa has expressed its ‘disapproval’ and called for more talks on the matter. The organisation is also calling for unity and ‘all parties involved in heated discussions to engage in calm, constructive and balanced dialogue for the good of the game’.
Uefa, along with the soccer associations of England, Spain and Italy, plus the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, say they will do all they can to stop the project.
A joint statement read: ‘If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we 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.
‘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 thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. 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.’
And the fans?
Even more scathing, to put it mildly. Supporters trusts from the six Premier League clubs involved in the ESL have joined other top-flight teams in opposing the plans, which they believe eliminates the very idea of open competition.
The fan reaction ranges from ridicule to resentment. Above all, the overriding feeling appears to be that a sport, already so awash with international investment, has finally crossed a line that threatens to take the game away from the very people that got it to where it is today.
What happens next?
A proverbial can of worms has been opened. At club level, the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A all face their product being weakened, as does the Uefa Champions League. On the international stage, the likes of the Uefa European Championship and Fifa World Cup could also be without a raft of top talent.
Uefa is being urged by other teams not part of the ESL – such as Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund – to stand fast and continue with its Champions League reforms.
ESL clubs will still need the approval of the associations who govern the domestic competitions to join the breakaway competition, a likelihood that currently appears remote.
“I cannot envisage any scenario where such permission would be granted,” said Premier League chief executive Richard Masters in a memo to the top flight’s 20 clubs, which was reported by Sky Sports.
Assuming the plans are ditched, or at least delayed, a protracted fallout will follow. Some pundits have called for sanctions to the 12 clubs, ranging from fines to points deductions. Whether any punishment will be handed out remains unclear at this stage, but the 12 teams will be hoping, at the very least, the threat of the ESL will ensure they receive greater financial guarantees and control.
However, if the clubs continue to dig their heels in and refuse to back down, this saga will have only just begun.
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- Borussia Dortmund reject European Super League plans
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