Twelve of Europe’s most powerful clubs announced the launch of a breakaway European Super League on Monday in a potentially seismic shift in the way football is run, but faced accusations of greed and cynicism.
Six Premier League teams Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham are involved, alongside Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan. The ESL said the founding clubs had agreed to create a “new midweek competition” but would continue to “compete in their respective national leagues”.
It said it hoped the inaugural edition would start “as soon as practicable”
Three more founding clubs would be announced, the ESL said in a statement, with a further five places up for grabs through a qualifying system each year. Crucially, the 15 initial members would be guaranteed qualification every season.
Clubs would be split into two groups of ten, playing each other home and away. The top three in each group would qualify for the quarter-finals and the teams in fourth and fifth would play a two-legged play-off for the two remaining spots. Then the competition would adopt the same two-leg knockout format used in the Champions League before a single-leg final in May.
In terms of the financial draw for clubs, organisers said they would receive “solidarity payments” that would be “substantially higher than those generated by the current European competition”. For signing up to the new league, “Founding Clubs will receive an amount of 3.5 billion euros solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic,” the statement added.
The ESL clubs were accused of greed, criticised by the leaders of Britain and France and threatened with international exile. Despite their pledge to continue playing in their domestic leagues, European football’s governing body UEFA and the three countries’ football authorities warned the clubs would be barred from their national competitions and the Champions League.
“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,” read a joint statement. UEFA also threatened that players from the participating clubs “could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the clubs “must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps”. With no French team among the initial ESL clubs, President Emmanuel Macron said the plans risked “threatening the principle of solidarity and sporting merit”.
The ESL announcement was timed to pre-empt UEFA’s own scheduled unveiling of reforms to the Champions League on Monday, with an expansion to 36 teams from 32 and two ‘wildcard’ slots expected to be among the plans. There would be a minimum of 10 games for each team.
FIFA expressed its “disapproval” at the Super League plans and called on all parties “to engage in calm, constructive and balanced dialogue for the good of the game.” The Premier League, the richest in Europe, issued a furious statement.
“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,” it said. “We believe that the concept of a European Super League would destroy this dream.” Arsenal, who currently sit ninth in the Premier League, well off the qualification spots for Europe, hinted at the obstacles ahead, saying “there’s lots more to do to bring the competition to life”.
The European Club Association (ECA) said it “strongly opposes” the Super League. Juventus, whose president Andrea Agnelli was also chief of the ECA, said the club and its boss had left the body. The club warned that it “cannot assure that the project will be eventually successfully launched”.
Juventus are facing a battle to finish in the Serie A top four this season and seven-time European champions AC Milan have not played in the Champions League since 2014. Real Madrid chief Florentino Perez, who was announced as the first ESL president, said the breakaway reflected the big clubs’ wishes.
“Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires,” he said. Manchester United’s American co-chairman Joel Glazer, who will be a vice-chairman of the Super League, said it “will open a new chapter for European football”. The clubs also said a women’s version of the competition will be created.
German, French clubs on sidelines
French and German clubs, including reigning European champions Bayern Munich and last season’s beaten Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain, were not among the initial ESL clubs. “We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this,” UEFA said.
La Liga president Javier Tebas compared the ESL clubs to drunks leaving a bar at 5:00am “intoxicated with selfishness and a lack of solidarity”. German Football League boss Christian Seifert said the breakaway could “irreparably damage the national leagues”. The announcement was also condemned by some supporters’ groups, with Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly tweeting it was “appalled”.