KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The tension has been ramped up between some of Europe’s leading clubs and the continental governing body UEFA ahead of its crucial executive meeting set to agree on the shape of an expanded Champions League.
An apparent agreement two weeks ago was then put on ice because clubs such as Juventus, Real Madrid, etc wanted a greater controlling interest in the command of commercial and media rights and the financial share-out.
Now 12 clubs, including six from England, have endorsed a proposal for the breakaway midweek European Super League whose spectre has haunted the international game for years if not decades.
UEFA has said it will use “all measures available” to stop the “cynical project” in a a joint statement supported by the English Football Association, Premier League, Spanish federation and league (LaLiga) plus the Italian FIGC and Serie A on Sunday.
The statement reiterated the warning issued earlier this year by world federation FIFA that any players involved in a breakaway league would be removing themselves from selection for their national teams in the World Cup and continental championships.
In a separate statement, the Premier League said it condemned the proposal as it “attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart” of domestic and European football.
The 12 clubs prepared to progress a super league from 2022 comprise England’s Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, Spain’s Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid plus Italy’s Juventus, AC Milan and Internazionale.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would reportedly be the chairman after having acquired financial support from the United States banking giant JP Morgan.
An ‘official statement’ confirmed the identity of the 12 founder member clubs and said that three more were expected on board for an inaugural tournament “as soon as possible.”
Powerful clubs from France and Germany such as Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich have stood aside from the project.
UEFA thanked “those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up” to the breakaway league.
It added: “We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”
The Football Supporters’ Association has said it is “totally opposed” to the plans, which it said were “motivated by nothing but cynical greed”.
Proposals for a new-look Champions League will a reorganised first round proper in which each club play 10 matches each rather than the current six. The would be narrowed down by a play-off section ahead of the traditional knock-out rounds.
For all the latest furore, the odds remain in favour of a compromise agreement being reached between UEFA and the clubs.
One further consequence, however, may be the collapse of the European Club Association which is rivened between the rich minority and middle and lower-ranked majority.
Juventus president Andrea Agnelli is chairman of the ECA and one of its two representatives on the UEFA executive committee. His apparently duplicitous role has upset many clubs both inside and outside the so-called Big Five leagues of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
On the one hand he has been supposedly negotiating with UEFA on behalf of all his 200-plus members while, on the other hand, he has been pursuing the giants’ minimalist agenda.
A statement issued late Sunday night by ECA threw only a further shroud of fog across the turbulent football vista.
ECA, perhaps in an attempt at emollience, said that it wanted to reiterate a “stated commitment to working on developing the UEFA Club Competitions model with UEFA” and that it “strongly opposed” a “closed super league.”
Agnelli’s explanation about how he was able to face two diametrically opposing directions simultaneously will be intriguing to study.
It is understood he and representatives of the other 11 did not attend an emergency ECA meeting which was chaired, in their absence, by Edwin van der Sar, the chief executive of Ajax.
The club association statement added: “ECA would refer to the position adopted by its executive board last Friday April 16, namely that it supports a commitment to work with UEFA on a renewed structure for European club football as a whole post 2024, including proposed changes to the UEFA club competitions post 2024.
“With ECA’s support, UEFA’s executive committee is being asked to endorse these commitments at its meeting on 19th April along with pursuing efforts to reach an agreement on the future relationship between ECA and UEFA.”
The most infamous breakaway against the international football establishment was undertaken by a phalanx of Colombian clubs in the late 1940s. They capitalised on a players’ strike in Argentina to sign mainly South American stars without paying transfer fees.
Eventually peace was established in an accord between FIFA and the clubs in 1952 and the players either returned to their original clubs or were sold on.
Leading club were Millonarios of Bogota whose iconic centre-forward, Alfredo di Stefano, joined Real Madrid and led them to success in the newly-founded European Cup, direct forerunner of the Champions League.
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 :
UEFA, the English Football Association and the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and LaLiga, and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A have learned that a few English, Spanish and Italian clubs may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League.
If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we – UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations – 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.
As previously announced by FIFA and the six Federations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.
We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.
In light of today’s reports on the subject of a so-called breakaway league, ECA as the body representing 246 leading clubs across Europe, reiterates its stated commitment to working on developing the UEFA Club Competitions (UCCs) model with UEFA for the cycle beginning 2024 and that a ‘closed super league model’ to which media articles refer would be strongly opposed by ECA.
ECA would refer to the position adopted by its Executive Board at its meeting last Friday 16th April, namely that it supports a commitment to work with UEFA on a renewed structure for European Club Football as a whole post 2024, including proposed changes to the UEFA Club Competitions post 2024.
With ECA’s support, UEFA’s Executive Committee is being asked to endorse these commitments at its meeting on 19th April along with pursuing efforts to reach an agreement on the future relationship between ECA and UEFA.
The ECA Executive Board will be convening over the coming days to take appropriate decisions in light of any further developments.