LONDON – A group of the world’s richest and most storied football clubs initially agreed on a plan to create a separatist European club competition that, if successful, would disrupt the structures, economy and relationships they have united. to world football for almost a century.
After months of secret talks, separatist teams, which include Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Manchester United and Liverpool in England, and Juventus and AC Milan in Italy, could make an announcement on Sunday, according to several people familiar with the plans. .
The timing of the announcement appears designed to overshadow Monday’s plan by European soccer’s governing body UEFA to ratify a newly designed Champions League, a competition that would be decimated by the departure of its most important teams.
At least 12 teams have signed up as founding members or expressed interest in joining the breakaway group, including six prominent teams from the English Premier League, three from Spain and three from Italy, according to people with knowledge of the plans.
The group has been trying to get other major teams, such as Bayern Munich and Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, to commit, but to date those clubs, and others, have refused to turn their backs on decades-old national structures. seniority and the continental competitions they have underpinned. European football for generations.
French champion Paris Saint-Germain, for example, has been invited to join, but has so far resisted proposals. Its president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, sits on UEFA’s board of directors and also heads beIN Media Group, the Qatar-based television network that has paid millions of dollars to UEFA for the right to broadcast League matches. of Champions.
The teams committed to the super league plan are currently limited to almost a dozen clubs in Spain, Italy and England. A cohort of six Premier League teams – United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham – represents the largest grouping in a single country. Atlético de Madrid is the other Spanish team said to have backed the project, while rivals Milan Internazionale and AC Milan would join Juventus as representatives of Italy.
The New York Times contacted several clubs involved in the separatist plans, but all declined to comment or did not respond. A UEFA spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
UEFA and the main European leagues, however, are preparing for the announcement of the break. Officials spent the weekend discussing ways to block the plan, including a possible ban on separatist teams from the national leagues and the Champions League from next season, with the breakaway scheduled to begin in 2022.
The repercussions of that type of rupture would be seismic for all those involved; Without the best teams, UEFA and the leagues would face demands for millions of dollars in refunds from broadcasters that pay billions for television rights to tournaments, and clubs would lose revenue streams that could cripple their budgets as they European football continues to emerge from the financial rubble caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the most notable teams participating in the breakaway group is Juventus, the Italian serial champion. Its president, Andrea Agnelli, also heads the Association of European Clubs, a body that brings together more than 200 top-division clubs, most of which will be left out of the proposed Super League. He is also a member of the UEFA executive board. When asked this year by The Times to discuss his role in separatist league talks, Agnelli dismissed the idea as a “rumor.”
Still, according to documents reviewed by The Times in January, plans for the separatist league had accelerated since the summer. The best clubs sought to take advantage of the uncertainty in the soccer industry caused by the pandemic to forge a new path that would assure them a certain degree of financial stability, but would also almost certainly lead to a significant and potentially devastating loss of value and income. for teams excluded from the project.
Each of the aspiring permanent members of the proposed super league is promised € 350 million, or $ 425 million, to sign up, according to the documents.
Under the revised proposals at the time, the super league, which would play its matches midweek, sought to secure 16 top-tier soccer franchises as permanent members and add four qualifiers from national competitions. The clubs would be divided into two groups of 10, with the top four teams from each group qualifying for the knockout stages, culminating in a final that would take place one weekend.
The event, according to the documents, would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue for the participating teams, which are already the richest clubs in the sport. (An alternative version of the plan proposed 15 permanent members and five qualifying positions.) The group had been in talks with JPMorgan Chase & Co. to raise funds for the project, according to people with knowledge of the matter. So far, the firm has declined to comment.
UEFA found a powerful ally in opposing the plans of FIFA, the world’s governing body for football. FIFA warned that any player participating in such an unauthorized league would be banned from participating in the World Cup. The statement came after UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin demanded the support of his FIFA counterpart Gianni Infantino amid mounting speculation that the breakaway would be backed by FIFA.
European soccer leaders crowded together over the weekend by phone and video conferencing to forge a counterattack. However, finding a solution to the possible loss of the most important brands in football is not an easy task. The Premier League, for example, would lose much of its luster, and almost certainly much of the commercial appeal that has made it the richest league in football, if it moved to banish its top six teams.
As member-owned clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid would likely require the support of their thousands of supporters before formally joining, and any German club that agrees to participate will face similar obstacles. Everyone can expect strong internal opposition; Fan groups across Europe had already voiced their opposition since details of plans for a super league emerged earlier this year.