Football fans, politicians and governing bodies are united in fury after 12 of the sport’s biggest teams announced plans to breakaway from European football competitions and form their own “Super League” — a move that poses an existential threat to the world’s favorite sport.
Here’s a rundown of what you need to know about the plans, and why they matter.
What is the European Super League? The new competition would see 12 elite teams from across Europe start their own tournament, with no relegation or promotion, which they ultimately expect to expand to 20 clubs. Five teams would be allowed to qualify to join the competition each year.
The league is “intended to commence as soon as is practicable,” according to the announcement posted on the 12 clubs’ websites, and would likely see the teams quit or be banned from their current leagues.
Who’s behind the plans? Six English clubs — Arsenal, Chelsea Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur — alongside three teams from Italy — AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus — and three from Spain — Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid — are behind the plans.
American investment bank JP Morgan confirmed to CNN on Monday that it will be financing the proposed tournament.
What’s the background? Owners of the world’s biggest clubs have long agitated for a bigger share of football’s TV revenues and other financial rewards, while the increasingly undeniable importance of money in the game has grated with more traditional supporters.
In recent decades, multi-billion dollar takeovers of several teams like Manchester City and Chelsea have widened the gap between football’s haves and have nots, and it’s extremely rare for a team outside the small group of elites to win a major league trophy.
That disparity has led to rumors of a “super league” for years, and some have suggested the clubs involved could be convinced to shelve the plans in favor of a financial compromise. But Sunday’s announcement is by far the closest football has ever come to such a drastic breakaway.
Why does this matter? A key principle of football is that trophies and success are based on competition, and that no team is assured its place among the football elite or protected from relegation. The “Super League” model shatters that centuries-old structure, introducing a closed tournament that only some of the world’s richest, most recognizable clubs are invited to.
The financial impact of the move on existing leagues and teams could be catastrophic; the Premier League, for example, would be devalued without its biggest names and could lose huge sums of money from TV deals. Even fans of lower league clubs fear the trickle down impact of the shift, especially after a pandemic that has left many teams in financial turmoil.
And for many fans, the idea is inherently opposed to the essence of football. Upset victories, competitions that see big teams take on lowly opponents, and fairytale stories such as Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League title success in 2016, would be ended if the world’s biggest teams left the established footballing universe in order to only play against each other.
As a result, the plans have achieved something rarely seen in sport — uniting fans of all teams, along with the sport’s governing bodies, in angry opposition.
What’s the response been? The governing bodies that run football have pulled no punches in response to the plans, releasing statements that condemn the European Super League and threaten consequences.
FIFA, the global governing body for football, denounced the formation of the Super League, saying it goes against FIFA’s core principles of solidarity, inclusivity, integrity and equitable financial redistribution.
UEFA — which oversees all European football — along with the English, Spanish, and Italian governing bodies and the top flight leagues from those three countries co-signed an angry statement promising 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,” the groups said.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, said the league “would strike at the heart of the domestic game.”
What would happen if the league goes ahead? Given the angry stances that FIFA, UEFA and the existing leagues have taken, it appears unlikely that teams would be allowed to take part in the Super League and keep their spot in their respective domestic leagues as well.
In a statement issued in January, after rumors of the new Super League began circulating, FIFA said that it would not recognize the breakaway organization and went so far as to say that “any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organized by FIFA or their respective confederation.”
That would mean that many of the world’s best players couldn’t play for their country — and would leave the next World Cup without stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kevin De Bruyne and many more.