World football has been rocked by 12 of Europe’s richest football clubs announcing the launch of a controversial NFL-style “Super League,” governed by the very clubs that founded it.
The plans have drawn widespread condemnation from supporters groups, high profile football personalities, and politicians. Clubs and players involved in the so-called European Super League face possible sanctions.
The founders are Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur from England, AC Milan, FC Internazionale Milano and Juventus FC from Italy, and Spain’s Atlético de Madrid, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF. The league has not been joined by any French or German clubs.
Europe’s main footballing bodies condemned the announcement. A joint statement by UEFA, the English Football Association, the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), LaLiga, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A said that they “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.”
Matches would be played midweek so that clubs could still compete in domestic competitions, the clubs said in a joint statement, but the governing bodies of those leagues may not allow them to do so.
A particularly controversial aspect of the proposal is for the 15 founder clubs – the final three clubs are yet to be decided – to have a guaranteed place in the competition, with five other clubs to qualify based on their achievements. Critics have said that this is an anti-competitive “closed-shop”, as the founding clubs will be able to participate in the competition without threat of relegation. The move is in part an attempt by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, to replicate the closed league systems in the US, in which they own franchises.
Under existing arrangements, only clubs that perform well in their domestic leagues qualify for European club football competitions. The controversy is demonstrated by three of England’s Premier League’s self-styled “big-six” – Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur – currently languishing below the league positions required to qualify for major European club football competitions the Champions League or Europa League.
In a joint statement announcing the new competition, the clubs said: “The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model. Further, 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 pandemic has shown that a strategic vision and a sustainable commercial approach are required to enhance value and support for the benefit of the entire European football pyramid. In recent months extensive dialogue has taken place with football stakeholders regarding the future format of European competitions. 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.”
Florentino Pérez, President of Real Madrid CF and the first Chairman of the Super League said: “We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world. 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.”
UEFA have warned the Super League clubs that they will be banned from taking part in existing domestic and continental competitions such as the Premier League and the Spanish League. Super League players could be banned from playing for their international teams.
The 12 clubs have begun legal action to try and fend off the attempts to block the competition.
A statement signed by a wide cross section of European fans, including national fans’ organisations, fans of the top 200 ranked UEFA clubs, fans the breakaway league clubs, and fans of previous winners of European competitions said: “We are all united in our opposition to the creation of a European Super League – an unpopular, illegitimate, and dangerous scheme in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of fans.
“It would destroy the European model of sport, which is based on commonly accepted principles such as sporting merit, promotion and relegation, qualification to European competitions via domestic success, and financial solidarity. In the process, it would also undermine the economic foundations of European football, concentrating even more wealth and power in the hands of a dozen or so elite clubs.
“We recognise that the game is in desperate need of broad reform. But proposals to this end must seek to revive the competitive balance in European competitions, protect domestic leagues, promote the interests of fans, and encourage fairer revenue distribution. A European Super League would achieve none of these objectives – quite the opposite.”
Banners were pictured outside Liverpool’s Anfield stadium reading, “Shame on you”.
The British and French governments declared themselves opposed to the Super League. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We are going to look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said, “The French State will support all the steps taken by the LFP, the FFF, UEFA, and FIFA to protect the integrity of federal competitions, whether national or European."