On Sunday, a dozen key European football (soccer) clubs announced plans to set up their own league. The breakaway officials say they’re tired of waiting for changes to the current sports system; critics say the new league is motivated only by money. The so-called “Super League” project threatens to split European soccer.
Calls for the formation of a European Super League (ESL) have been around since the late 1990s. Over the weekend, 12 English, Italian, and Spanish clubs officially announced the start of a new league. Rumors says three more clubs will soon join the ESL.
Currently, all teams have to qualify each year for the European Champions League. But the Super League would lock in 15 slots every season for its founding members. The founding clubs will run the league and retain permanent places in league competitions. Five more teams will be able to qualify yearly.
So far, the 12 ESL members are Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham from England; Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid from Spain; and Juventas, AC Milan, and Inter Milan from Italy.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is fighting back against the new league. President Aleksander Ceferin threatens to ban all players on those teams from this year’s UEFA Championship and next year’s World Cup. “The players that play in the Super League will be banned from playing in the World Cup and Euros. They will not be allowed play for their national teams,” an irate Cerferin said at a news conference.
Ceferin spoke following a UEFA executive committee meeting held only hours after the ESL clubs’ announcement of a new league. “My opinion is that as soon as possible they (the clubs) have to be banned from all our competitions, and the players from all our competitions.”
The move to shake up the sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United.
Three of the ESL rebels—Chelsea, Manchester City, and Real Madrid—are scheduled to play in the Champions League semifinals this month.
The clubs that started the breakaway Super League told the leaders of FIFA (the international football governing body) and UEFA that they have begun legal action. They intend to fend off threats to block their competition.
UEFA warned the Super League clubs of legal action against them. UEFA also says it will bar the ESL clubs from other competitions like the Spanish League and the Premier League.
The breakaway came just as UEFA thought it had agreement on expanding the Champions League competition. Now, the same officials who backed the plans have decided to go it alone. They claim the existing competitions could remain—despite losing their most successful teams, including record 13-time European champion Real Madrid and six-time winner Liverpool.
“The [Super League] Competition is to be played alongside existing domestic league and cup competitions, which are a key part of European football’s competitive fabric,” reads the Super League letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Ceferin. “We do not seek to replace the UEFA’s Champions League or the Europa League but to compete with and exist alongside those tournaments.”
To that, Ceferin responds, “UEFA and the footballing world stand united against the disgraceful self-serving proposal we have seen . . . from a select few clubs in Europe that are fueled purely by greed above all else.”
(Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of a Champions League soccer match at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. AP/Jon Super)