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European Super League plans ‘a spit in the face of football lovers’, says Ceferin

Uefa president reiterates that players competing in new breakaway will be banned from international competition.

19 April 2021 PA

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has insisted players who represent clubs competing in the European Super League (ESL) will be banned from international competitions despite preemptive legal moves by the new organisation.

Six Premier League sides – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham – are part of an initial group of 12 European soccer clubs seeking to establish a new 20-team continental competition 'as soon as practicable'.

If the plans succeed it would devastate existing European club competitions and in particular the Champions League. A joint statement including Uefa and the English, Italian and Spanish leagues on Sunday said it would consider 'all measures, both judicial and sporting' to prevent the competition going ahead.

On 19th April, Ceferin said: “Uefa and the footballing world stand united against the disgraceful self-serving proposal we have seen in the last 24 hours from a select few clubs in Europe that are fuelled purely by greed.

“The players who will play in the teams that might be playing in the closed league will be banned from playing the World Cup, and so they will not be able to represent the national teams at any matches.

“In my opinion, this idea is a spit in the face of all football lovers, and our society as well. So we will not allow them to take it away from us.”

Ceferin accepted that the Super League proposals placed players in a “difficult situation” but warned: “If [the Super League] materialises and if we ban the players then of course, players will think twice before signing for a club.”

World players’ union FifPro says it will 'vigorously oppose' any legal actions from any side which block players from competing for their national teams. It said: 'Threats of a breakaway competition and subsequent concessions to reform European football competitions have shaped decision-making for years. This dynamic has replaced transparent and inclusive discussions on the opportunities of competition reforms for all players, fans, clubs, leagues and federations.

'Players continue to be used as assets and leverage in these negotiations. This is unacceptable for FifPro, our 64 national player associations and the 60,000 players we represent. We will vigorously oppose measures by either side that would impede the rights of players, such as exclusion from their national teams.'

World governing body Fifa has called for 'calm, constructive dialogue' to resolve the crisis, but the company behind the Super League has taken steps to protect itself against any legal challenges.

In a letter to Uefa and Fifa, seen by the PA news agency, the Super League wrote: '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.

'We hope that is not your response to this letter and that, like us, your organisations will recognise the immediate benefits of the competition established by SLCo.

'We also seek your co-operation and support on how the competition can be brought within the football ecosystem and work with us to achieve that objective.

'Your formal statement does, however, compel us to take protective steps to secure ourselves against such an adverse reaction, which would not only jeopardise the funding commitment under the grant but, significantly, would be unlawful.

'For this reason, SLCo 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.'

The decision to go public on the Super League follows a disagreement among some clubs over the level of commercial control they would have over the new-look Champions League.

Ceferin was speaking following the approval of reforms to the tournament, with the Uefa chief saying pointedly: “Teams will always qualify and compete in our competitions on merit, not a closed shop run by a greedy, select few.”

The corporate structure of the Super League gives a clear indication of the leading figures behind the breakaway.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is the chairman of the new organisation, while Manchester United’s co-chairman Joel Glazer is a vice chairman.

So too is Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, who had been chair of the European Club Association (ECA) and a member of Uefa’s ExCo.

The PA news agency understands that Manchester United quit the ECA and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward stepped down from his role at Uefa.

He had previously described the plans proposed by Uefa for the new-look Champions League as “ideal” but has now signed up to the Super League.

Ceferin was scathing about Woodward and Agnelli in particular, saying: “[Agnelli is] probably one of the biggest disappointments, or the biggest disappointment of all.

“I don’t want to be too personal. But the fact is that I’ve never seen a person that would lie so many times, so persistently that he did was unbelievable.

“I spoke with him also on Saturday afternoon. He said, ‘These are all only rumours. Don’t worry, nothing is going on’. And then he said, ‘I’ll call you in one hour’. And he turned off the phone.

“I didn’t have much contact with [Woodward] but he called me last Thursday in the evening saying that he’s very satisfied with the reforms, that he fully supports the reforms, and that the only thing he would like to speak about is about financial fair play. And obviously he already signed something else.”

The letter to Fifa and Uefa also said SLCo had secured a commitment to underwrite funding for the competition in the range of €4 billion (US$4.8 billion), and JP Morgan confirmed to PA that it is financing the deal.

Against this backdrop, Uefa's Executive Committee has approved a new format for its club competitions as of the 2024/25 season. According to Uefa, the reforms received unanimous backing from the ECA board and the governing body's club competitions committee – which is made up of a majority of club representatives – on 16th April. 

The total number of teams competing in the Champions League will go up from 32 to 36. The biggest change will see a transformation from the traditional group stage to a single league stage including all participating teams. Every club will now be guaranteed a minimum of ten games against ten different opponents (five home games, five away) under the so-called 'Swiss system'.

The top eight sides in the league will qualify automatically for the knockout stage, while the teams finishing in ninth to 24th place will compete in a two-legged playoff to secure their path to the last 16 of the competition.

Similar format changes will also be applied to the Uefa Europa League (eight matches in the league stage) and Uefa Europa Conference League (six matches in the league stage). Subject to further discussions and agreements, these two competitions may also be expanded to a total of 36 teams each in the league stage.

Qualification for the top-tier Champions League will continue to be open and earned through a team’s performance in domestic competitions.

One of the additional places will go to the club ranked third in the championship of the association in fifth position in Uefa's national association ranking – currently France. Another will be awarded to a domestic champion by extending the number of clubs qualifying via the so-called 'Champions Path' from four to five.

The final two places will go to the clubs with the highest club coefficient over the last five years that have not qualified for the Champions League group stage but have qualified either for the Champions League qualification phase, the Europa League or the Europa Conference League.

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