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 midweek, ruling teams out of the Champions League but leaving them free for domestic fixtures.
Meet the daring dozen
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.
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.
Fifa President Gianni Infantino “strongly disapproved” the formation of the European Super League and has alerted the 12 teams involved to be ready for “consequences”.
“At Fifa, we can only strongly disapprove the creation of a Super League which is a closed shop, which is a breakaway from the current institutions, from the leagues, from the associations, from Uefa, and from Fifa,” Infantino said at the Uefa Congress.
Infantino said the game of football might lose a lot in a bid for “short-term financial gain” for some people.
“There is a lot to throw away for maybe a short-term financial gain of some. People need to think very carefully. They need to reflect and they need to assume responsibility,” said the Fifa President.
“If some elect to go their own way, then they must live with the consequences of their choice. They are responsible for their choice. Concretely, this means either you are in or you are out. You cannot be half in or half out,” he added.
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”.
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 clubs to come on board. French champions Paris Saint-Germain, who are backed by Qatari wealth, are an obvious target. Germany’s Bayern Munich, the reigning European champions, are other notable absentees.
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 considerable distance.”
Two English clubs are close to ‘losing their nerve’ and could pull out of the European Super League, according to reports.
Half-a-dozen Premier League teams dubbed the ‘super six’ had initially signed on to be part of the breakaway competition, governed by 12 European teams, details of which emerged on Monday and were met with intense backlash and protests outside stadiums.
Now reports are coming in that ‘cracks’ are appearing in the structure.
“Hearing the first cracks may be beginning to appear in the ugly, misshapen edifice of the ESL. Told two English clubs are close to losing their nerve,” tweeted the Mail’s chief sports writer Oliver Holt on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Politico London Playbook editor Alex Wickham tweeted that one club is “seriously considering pulling out”.
“Hearing from a source with knowledge that one of the big six English clubs is now seriously considering pulling out of the Super League,” wrote Wickham.
“They are accusing Liverpool and Manchester United — the two clubs leading the breakaway — of lying to them and ‘[expletive] up’. Major split in ESL,” he added.
Neither reports have been confirmed through official channels. The claims arrive amid news from Downing Street that UK PM Boris Johnson is “exploring every possibility, including legislative options” to block the Super League from going forward.
Klopp doubles down
Jurgen Klopp on Monday doubled down on his comments from 2019, where he expressed his opposition to a Super League.
“My opinion didn’t change,” said the Liverpool manager at Ellan Road, where the Reds drew with Leeds United.
“Obviously, I heard for the first time about it yesterday, and trying to prepare a game, a very difficult game against Leeds, and I knew so far we got some information, not a lot to be honest,” he said, adding that neither he nor the players were involved in “any processes” regarding the ESL.
In 2019, the German boss said he hoped the Super League would “never happen”.
As it stands, the six EPL clubs that are part of the Super League are Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United. The remaining six clubs are Juventus, Barcelona, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid. Three extra spots are understood to be open.
Will PSG automatically win Champions League?
By Marwa Hamad, Assistant Editor
Fifa has threatened to ban 12 clubs who agreed to form a European Super League from playing in the Champions League, which could potentially result in an automatic winner.
Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid — three of four semi-final teams in this season’s UCL — are among the big-name clubs who caused a ruckus on Monday, when news broke that they had committed to the controversial Super League, a new midweek competition that would be governed by the founding clubs, rather than Uefa.
Paris St-Germain would be the only team left in play if the ban goes into effect ahead of the April 27 and 28 games.
This has put a big question mark around the outcome of the Champions League this season.
At time of writing, no competitions have been suspended, postponed or cancelled. If Uefa and Fifa decide to ban the Super League clubs from the UCL effective immediately, that could be an automatic win for Paris St-Germain, the only remaining team.
Uefa released a stern statement that they are committed to stopping the “cynical effort”.
“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this [the Super League] happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way,” wrote Uefa.
“As previously announced by Fifa and the six Confederations, 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,” they continued.
Champions League future uncertain
Uefa, one of six continental confederations under Fifa, went on to thank “the French and German clubs” who refused to commit to the Super League. These include PSG and Bayern Munich, who have been subject to praise in the hours since the announcement.
This is not the first time that Fifa threatened to ban those who commit to breakaway competitions. In January, they stated: “Any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organised by FIFA or their respective confederation.”
If PSG do win the Champions League title due to an immediate disqualification of other clubs from Uefa and Fifa, it would be the first time in the history of the club.
The first leg of the semi-finals is set to kick off on April 27 with Real Madrid v Chelsea and April 28 with PSG v Man City, with the second leg following on May 4 and 5.
The beautiful game turns ugly
Imran Malik, Assistant Editor
I can’t even put the kettle on because I’m fasting but goodness me do I need a cup of tea right now to help settle my nerves. I am disgusted — not in the same way I’m often left feeling following a Pickford injury time clanger — this time it feels like I have had the stuffing knocked right out of me.
Having gone to bed on Monday night, still annoyed at my beloved Toffees for dropping two more points as we struggle to get into the top four of the English Premier League and qualify for the Champions League, I’ve woken on Tuesday to find we are now favourites to win Uefa’s most glamorous competition! We are also favourites to win the league next season. And the FA Cup. And, as Wenger once called it, the other one. Not bad for a team currently languishing in eighth. Now, I should be happy, after all, the last time I saw us win anything was when I was sweet 16 back in 1995. We have not won anything since, but we may need a rather large trophy cabinet at Goodison Park soon because the formation of this European Super League could mean its founding members will be banned from competing in their domestic competitions.
So, without Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs, Everton — often regarded as the seventh members of the top six — could sweep the lot. It is every fans dream to see their team dominate — but not like this. I don’t want those clubs to be banned but if that is the punishment that is meted out for the sheer greed they are so shamelessly showing, then so be it. But, how the heck do Spurs think they are a ‘super-club’ when they have only managed to win the English title twice in their entire history (nine for us!) and have not won a major trophy aside from the League Cup since 1991?
And what about Chelsea? Aside from their recent success they were a yo-yo club getting promoted and then relegated again until a Russian billionaire bought them. The FA must stop them from playing in the FA Cup final that they have just reached as they clearly have no respect for their own country’s game, why then should they be allowed to enjoy its rewards? My Blues have the cash now but have not been successful for more than 25 years. Historically, we are certainly one of English football’s giants, we are just not seen as a ‘big club’ right now so we will continue to enjoy the domestic competitions, something that makes up the fabric of football as we have known it since 1878 when we were formed.
However, before today, we had a solid selling point of exposure in the most watched league in the world but if I am a potential investor or sponsor, I don’t think I would be keen to spend millions with a club who might not have a chance of competing on the world stage anymore and that is a worry for all the 14 teams being left behind.
A breakaway European League has been on the cards for over a decade so it is no surprise that it now seems to actually be coming into fruition — but more than anything, the timing of this really stinks. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the world has collapsed around us, millions have died and millions find themselves struggling to put food on the table, yet these arrogant English, Spanish and Italian football clubs have devised a plan behind the scenes to ensure they continue to make millions.
Don’t be fooled by any of the upcoming PR fluff that this will help the beautiful game and that all clubs in all leagues across Europe will prosper. They will not. This is just about guaranteeing huge amounts of money for Europe’s elite without them even working for it. It would have 20 teams with the 12 founding members never facing relegation and they would be playing each other again and again and again. I mean, this league does not even sound remotely interesting.
The driving force has been Uefa’s mismanagement of the Champions League, so why can’t everyone get together and fix it rather than run away? The answer is simple — money. Winning the Champions League brings with it a windfall of £80m but participation alone in this new competition will net teams £300m. This is clearly a cynical move driven by greed and I’m proud that my club has nothing to do with it.