Sports 20/04/2021

Madrid Court protects Super League 12 after threats from UEFA and FIFA

Open war in European football

4 min
The action of the last classic in which Messi almost scored an Olympic goal.
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BarcelonaFootball offices are ablaze after the announcement that 12 top clubs in Europe - six from the Premier League, three from La Liga and two from Serie A - made in the early hours of Monday morning. Real Madrid, Barça, Atlético Madrid, Juventus, Milan, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea are ready to control the business in Europe in defiance of UEFA and state federations by organising a closed Super League that would fill the niche market of the current Champions League. The initiative had been quietly brewing for years between corridors, boxes and airport terminals. And, although the traditional powers were forewarned, the general reaction to the official kick-off of the competition has been burying heads in hands and coarse words. There are too many millions, interests and egos at stake.

The essential engine of the Super League is purely economic. It is explained by an initial investment of €3.5bn from JP Morgan, an American banking institution proposed by Key Capital, a financial solutions company based in Madrid. The figure would be shared among the participating clubs, most of which are in the red due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the case of Barça, for example, the money would help start work on the Camp Nou or pay Messi's next contract. This investment and the income promised by the new competition are far from the amounts normally provided by UEFA to the participants of the Champions League. Hence the interest in launching the project and the virulence of the highest European body when it comes to discrediting it. "The rich clubs realise that they can have control over the revenue. It's the disintermediation of the football industry," says Marc Ciria, an economist and football expert.

Super League and Real Madrid president, Florentino Pérez, explained to the TV programme El Chiringuito that the project aims to save the clubs. "We will try to start as soon as possible. We will speak to the UEFA and FIFA; I don't understand why they should get angry. UEFA is working on another format that I don't understand and which does not generate enough revenue to save football. And when I say save football, I mean save us all. What we want is to save football so it can continue for another twenty years. The new Champions League would start in 2024, when we would all be dead if nothing changed first", Pérez said.

As UEFA suffers over the cake it has been kneading, baking and dividing up for decades, its president, Aleksander Ceferin, is going to war against the 12 clubs pushing for the Super League. In the heat of the moment, the leader used Monday's executive committee to reiterate that the project seems "cynical and senseless" at a time when the Champions League is on the verge of a change of model. So opposed is he to the challenge posed by Agnelli, Florentino and Glazer, among others, that he is even threatening to kick rebels out of state and continental championships and prevent Barca, Madrid or Manchester City players from playing national team matches. "There is no legal support for banning certain players who have not breached any UEFA regulations from the European Championship," explains Toni Roca, CEO of Himnus, a law firm with expertise in football. Roca also does not believe that La Liga can expel Barça, Madrid and Atlético. "[La Liga president] Tebas would have to change the statutes of the employer to do so, and beyond that it would not be in his interest in losing the three best exponents taking into account that he soon has to negotiate television rights," he justifies.

Precautionary measures

Nevertheless, the founding clubs of the Super League have covered their backs: they have informed UEFA and FIFA that they have sought court rulings to prevent the international bodies to retaliate, imposing sanctions in order to disuade them. This is because the clubs want to continue to play in national and international competitions until the Super League can be created in the 2022-2023 season. In fact, Madrid's Commercial Court no. 17 has ruled in favour of precautionary measures banning UEFA and FIFA from taking reprisals. Therefore, they will have to tread carefully before taking decisions that could affect the current Champions League or the next Eurocup.

UEFA reacts quickly with a new Champions League

La Liga criticises the European Super League because it is "elitist and separatist", a gesture that according to Roca is only "a tantrum by Tebas because he sees that the system is broken". For Ciria, Tebas's position, who receives the support of all Spanish professional football except Barça, Real Madrid and Atlético's presidents, is an unmistakable symptom of his powerlessness to "control income", which in the end is what it is. "The clubs want to decide in an executive way who gets what," adds the economist, who believes that the best solution would be "a Champions League with a Super League logic". In other words, a solution agreed between UEFA and the 12 clubs that want to shake up the industry by going it alone. And remember: "The romanticism is not only killed off by a Super League, but also by those who decide to play Spain's Supercopa in Saudi Arabia or set odd times for fixtures that keep the crowds away from the stadiums".

In response to the Super League proposal, UEFA is considering a Champions League from 2024 that would guarantee a minimum of ten matches for each participant, four more than the current format. It also intends to increase the number of teams from 32 to 36 in order to open up the tournament to representatives from smaller European leagues. Undoubtedly, however, the most groundbreaking aspect will be the competition system. The traditional eight groups would disappear to make way for a group stage in which teams would play each other according to their UEFA coefficient. For example, the top seeds would play two matches against teams in their own group, three against teams in group 2, three against teams in group 3 and two against teams in group 4. The top eight teams in this 36-team league would advance directly to the Round of 16, with the ninth to 24th teams facing a play-off to decide eight more places. Those eliminated in this round would go through to the Europa League. UEFA's proposal is for the Champions League to be played on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the year with the aim of increasing the number of matches and media exposure, as well as generating higher television rights. The show to change footballing order has just begun.