Twelve of Europe’s most powerful clubs yesterday announced the launch of a breakaway European Super League (ESL) in a potentially seismic shift in the way soccer is run, but faced accusations of greed and cynicism.
Six English Premier League teams — Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are involved, alongside Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and AC Milan.
The ESL said the founding clubs had agreed to create a “new midweek competition,” but would continue to “compete in their respective national leagues.”
It said it hoped the inaugural edition would start “as soon as practicable.”
Three more founding clubs would be announced, the ESL said in a statement, with a further five places up for grabs through a qualifying system each year. Crucially, the 15 initial members would be guaranteed qualification every season.
Clubs would be split into two groups of 10, playing each other home and away. The top three in each group would qualify for the quarter-finals, and the teams in fourth and fifth would play a two-legged playoff for the two remaining spots.
Then the competition would adopt the same two-leg knockout format used in the UEFA Champions League before a single-leg final in May.
In terms of the financial draw for clubs, organizers said they would receive “solidarity payments” that would be “substantially higher than those generated by the current European competition.”
“Founding clubs will receive an amount of 3.5 billion euros [US$4.2 billion] solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic,” the statement said.
The ESL clubs were accused of greed, criticized by the leaders of Britain and France, and threatened with international exile.
Despite their pledge to continue playing in their domestic leagues, UEFA and the three nations’ soccer authorities said that the clubs would be barred from their national competitions and the Champions League.
“We... 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,” a joint statement said.
UEFA also threatened that players from the participating clubs “could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the clubs “must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps.”
With no French team among the initial ESL clubs, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the plans risked “threatening the principle of solidarity and sporting merit.”
FIFA expressed its “disapproval” at the plans, and called on all parties “to engage in calm, constructive and balanced dialogue for the good of the game.”
The English Premier League, the richest in Europe, issued a furious statement.
“Fans of any club in England and across Europe can currently dream that their team may climb to the top and play against the best,” it said. “We believe that the concept of a European Super League would destroy this dream.”
French and German clubs, including reigning European champions Bayern Munich and beaten finalists Paris Saint-Germain, were not among the initial ESL clubs.
“We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this,” UEFA said.
La Liga president Javier Tebas compared the ESL clubs to drunks leaving a bar at 5am “intoxicated with selfishness and a lack of solidarity.”
German Football League chief executive Christian Seifert said the breakaway could “irreparably damage the national leagues.”
The announcement was also condemned by supporters’ groups, with Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly writing on Twitter that it was “appalled.”
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