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April 20, 2021

European football plunges into deep crisis


April 20, 2021

PARIS: A planned breakaway Super League announced by twelve of European football’s most powerful clubs and backed by US investment bank JPMorgan was roundly condemned by fans and federations across the continent on Monday, with UEFA meeting to hold crisis talks over the threat posed to its flagship competitions.

Six Premier League teams—Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur—joined forces with Spanish giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and Italian trio Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan to launch the planned competition.

A joint statement said three more clubs would be invited to join the founding members before the start of the competition “as soon as possible”.

The competition threatens to completely shake up the world’s biggest sport and leaves UEFA’s flagship Champions League facing an uncertain future.

The clubs, most of them saddled with debt and large wage bills, and hit hard by the pandemic, stand to benefit financially. JPMorgan confirmed it is financing the breakaway league.

“I can confirm that we are financing the deal, but have no further comment at the moment,” a bank spokesman said in a statement to AFP.

The founding clubs will share 3.5 billion euros for infrastructure investment and to offset pandemic costs, and are expected to receive a further 10 billion euros in “solidarity payments” over the life of the initial commitment—much more than is available in the current Champions League.

The 15 eventual founder members will be guaranteed to play each year in a competition which is intended to take place in midweek, allowing clubs in theory to continue participating in their domestic leagues.

Another five places will available “based on achievements in the prior season”.

The absence of French and German teams from the founding members is notable, despite Bayern Munich and Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain reaching last season’s Champions League final.

However, a source close to the 12 founding clubs told AFP that “at least two French clubs” are set to be involved every year, without revealing who they would be or how they would be selected.

The Super League announcement appeared to be timed to pre-empt UEFA’s own scheduled unveiling of reforms to the Champions League on Monday, with an expansion to 36 teams from 32 and a minimum of 10 group games for each team.

European football’s governing body met for an executive committee meeting having already described the plans as “cynical” in a joint statement with the three countries’ football associations and domestic leagues.

“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,” the statement said.

The reaction from fans and pundits was furious.

The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust—whose club on Monday separately announced the sacking of coach Jose Mourinho—called it a “betrayal”.

“This is unforgivable. Enough is enough,” added the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust.

Meanwhile, former English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said he believed the widespread opposition to the proposed league will mean it never comes about.

“I think it’s a big mistake. I think the opposition to it, which has come from almost everywhere, I haven’t heard anybody in favour yet, I think will probably stop it,” Dyke, chairman of the FA from 2013 to 2016, told the BBC.