Twelve major football clubs announced a new European Super League on Monday, breaking away from the Uefa Champions League and prompting an angry response from fans, politicians and their domestic leagues.
Here are the main things to know about the new venture:
Twelve heavyweights from England, Spain and Italy have agreed to establish a new competition, the Super League, governed by its founding clubs. This challenges the supremacy of Europe’s top club competition, the Uefa-run Champions League.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are the English clubs involved, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid are the Spanish teams and the Italian sides are AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus. The teams have 99 European titles between them.
Three more teams are expected to join as founding clubs, which are guaranteed participation each year, with another five qualifying annually, making it a 20-team competition. Games will be mid-week, ruling teams out of the Champions League but leaving them free for domestic fixtures.
“At least two French clubs” are set to be involved in a European Super League every year, a source close to the 12 founding clubs of the planned breakaway competition told AFP on Monday without revealing who they would be or how they would be selected.
The absence of French and German teams is notable, despite Bayern Munich and Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain reaching last season’s Champions League final.
However, it is understood three more teams will join as founding clubs, with five more clubs qualifying annually. That could include the winners of Ligue 1.
What’s the format?
The inaugural edition will take place “as soon as practicable”, the announcement says.
With an August start, it will feature two groups of 10 playing home and away, and the top three qualifying for the quarter-finals.
The fourth and fifth-placed teams will play off for the remaining quarter-final spots. The quarter and semi-finals will be played over two legs and the final is a single game at a neutral venue.
There are also plans for a women’s version.
What’s behind all this?
Money. Europe’s top clubs have long agitated for the income that guaranteed, annual competition against their fellow powers would bring. Currently, they have to qualify for the Champions League by placing high in their domestic competitions, and then make it through the season-long tournament to reach the high-profile latter stages.
The clubs, saddled with big debts and huge wages for their star players, say the pandemic has “accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model”.
The Super League will bring them far more than the Champions League. The founding clubs are expected to receive more than 10 billion euros in uncapped “solidarity payments” during their initial commitment period.
They will also receive 3.5 billion euros for infrastructure investment and to offset their losses from the pandemic.
By comparison, Uefa competitions generated 3.2 billion euros in TV earnings in the pre-pandemic 2018-2019 season.
According to a report in The Athletic, every participating team is likely to earn $400 million from the ESL, that’s three times more than the previous winners of the Champions League.
What was the reaction?
The condemnation was widespread and swift. European football’s governing body Uefa and English, Spanish and Italian football authorities issued a joint statement threatening to ban participating clubs from “any other competition at domestic, European or world level”. Players could even be barred from their national teams, they said.
World body Fifa said it “can only express its disapproval” about a competition “outside of the international football structures”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the plans were “very damaging for football” and “would strike at the heart of the domestic game”. French President Emmanuel Macron praised French clubs for not taking part.
Fans were also incensed, with the Chelsea and Tottenham supporters’ trusts calling it a “betrayal”, and the Arsenal Supporters Trust saying it was the “death of Arsenal as a sporting institution”.
Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, now a TV pundit, said he was “disgusted” and called the Super League an “absolute disgrace”. Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl described the plan as “absolutely unacceptable”.
Has any active footballer reacted?
“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.”
– Paris Saint-Germain’s Spain midfielder Ander Herrera
Have managers from these clubs reacted?
Will it actually happen?
Given the staunch opposition from Uefa and the domestic leagues, the Super League faces some big hurdles. Signs are the clubs will not get much support from their own fans and probably none from the wider football community.
Fifa’s immediate reaction was less severe, although it issued a statement in January warning that it would not recognise the Super League.
The Super League also needs another three more clubs to come on board.
In a purely business sense, the plan has its merits. It’s similar to the American model where sports teams compete every year without having to qualify or face relegation, giving certainty to investors and sponsors. It’s probably no coincidence that, according to reports, the American-owned English clubs were key instigators.
The timing of the announcement is also worth noting. Uefa are due to announce a major overhaul for the Champions League on Monday, expanding it to 36 teams with a new format and a sharp rise in the number of games. It’s possible that the Super League is a negotiating tactic, designed to win greater concessions and a bigger say for the major clubs.
However, a source told The Guardian: “Usually the threat of a super league is a bargain chip, and about leverage. But this is the furthest it’s ever gone by a considerable distance.”
Former English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke believes the widespread opposition to the proposed European Super League will mean it never comes about.
“I actually don’t think it will happen. I think it’s a game that’s going on, but I don’t think it’s good for football in any way at all,” Dyke told the BBC.
“I think it’s a big mistake. I think the opposition to it, which has come from almost everywhere, I haven’t heard anybody in favour yet, I think will probably stop it.”
What is the immediate impact?
Shares in Juventus and Manchester United jumped on Monday after the clubs announced a breakaway European Super League with another 10 of football’s most powerful teams.
The Italian club’s shares rose by 7% to 0.827 euros one hour after opening on the Milan stock market, after weeks of falling prices since it was eliminated from the Champions League in March.
Manchester United, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, was up more than 5% in pre-market trading.
“The financial incentive for the clubs is plain to see, with a multi-billion dollar package at the heart of the scheme, albeit it would forever break the integrity of the club game,” said Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com.
“The sort of additional revenues the ESL will deliver would need to be offset by a potential material decline or total loss of existing earnings from media deals through national leagues and Uefa,” he said.
More Uefa reaction
This plan is a “disgraceful self-serving proposal from a select few clubs purely fuelled by greed”, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin said on Monday.
The head of European football’s governing body said it was “a spit in the face of all football lovers” and reaffirmed that players from clubs involved would be banned from representing their national teams and therefore unable to take part in European Championships or World Cups.
Uefa alsoon onfirmed that a new format for the Champions League will be introduced from 2024 with the number of clubs in the group stage increasing from 32 to 36, following the earlier Super League announcement.
The new format – which will see all 36 clubs brought together into one pool instead of the current system of four-team groups – was approved at an executive committee meeting of European football’s governing body in Switzerland.
What about Bayern, Dortmund?
Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich both said they were against proposals to form a European Super League.
“FC Bayern have not been involved in the plans for creating a Super League,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said in a statement.
“We are convinced that the current structure in football guarantees a reliable foundation.”
Dortmund chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke said the members of the European Club Association had met late on Sunday and expressed “a clear opinion to reject the foundation of a Super League”.
He added the two German clubs on the ECA board, Bayern and Dortmund, had taken “100%” the same position “in all discussions”.
“I do not believe the Super League will solve the financial problems of European clubs that have arisen as result of the coronavirus pandemic,” added former Bayern striker Rummenigge.
“Rather, all clubs in Europe should work in solidarity to ensure that the cost structure, especially players’ salaries and agents’ fees, are brought in line with revenues, to make all of European football more rational.”
The global footballers’ union Fifpro said it would “vigorously defend” players of clubs.
“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,” FIFPRO said in a statement.
“We will vigorously oppose measures by either side that would impede the rights of players, such as exclusion from their national teams.”
“This decision leaves players and their unions with many concerns and questions about its impact not only on the fabric and cultural identity of football but also more practically on their careers,” Fifpro added.
(With AFP inputs)