European football’s governing body UEFA has said clubs and players joining the proposed breakaway Super League could be banned from all of its competitions and the World Cup as it condemned a “disgraceful and self-serving proposal”.
The US investment bank JP Morgan is financing the new league, which includes clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester United and is a rival to UEFA’s Champions League competition.
JP Morgan is providing a 3.5bn euro ($4.21bn) grant to the founding clubs to spend on infrastructure and recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Addressing an emergency meeting on Monday, the day after 12 of Europe’s top clubs announced the breakaway, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin launched a scathing attack on the plan, which has been widely condemned across the game and beyond.
“We’re still assessing with our legal team but we will take all the sanctions that we can and we will inform you as soon we can,” he said. “My opinion is that as soon as possible they have to be banned from all our competitions and the players from all our competitions.”
The meeting was initially scheduled to confirm plans for an expanded UEFA Champions League but has been overshadowed by the breakaway Super League.
The new format for the Champions League was announced on Monday and will be introduced from 2024, with the number of clubs in the group stage increasing from 32 to 36.
The format will follow the so-called ‘Swiss system’ with clubs split into four pots of nine for the draw based on UEFA coefficients.
Teams will play against 10 different sides, with five games at home and five away. At the end of this phase, the top eight sides will go through to the last 16, with the bottom 12 eliminated.
Meanwhile, the sides finishing between ninth and 24th position will play two-legged play-offs, with those between ninth and 16th drawn against a side finishing from 17th to 24th.
The winners of those ties will complete the last-16 lineup, with the losers dropping into the Europa League.
Ceferin showed his sense of anger and betrayal by the leaders of some wealthy European clubs as he spoke of “snakes”.
“UEFA and the football world stand united against the disgraceful and self-serving proposal we have seen in the last 24 hours for a select few clubs in Europe motivated by greed. We are all united against this nonsense of a project,” Ceferin said.
The UEFA president also said players at the 12 clubs could be banned from this year’s European Championship and next year’s World Cup.
“My opinion is that as soon as possible they (the clubs) have to be banned from all our competitions, and the players from all our competitions,” Ceferin said.
“They [the players] will not be able to represent their national teams at any matches,” he added.
The dispute entered a new phase with a letter sent by the 12 clubs to UEFA on Monday in which they said they would take legal steps in unnamed courts to protect their interests as they set up the league.
Earlier, the 12 clubs planning to start the breakaway Super League told the leaders of FIFA, world football’s governing body, and UEFA that they have begun legal action aimed at fending off threats to block the competition.
“We are concerned that FIFA and UEFA may respond to this invitation letter by seeking to take punitive measures to exclude any participating club or player from their respective competitions,” the Super League clubs wrote to Ceferin and FIFA President Gianni Infantino in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
New financial model
The power play came after the rebel clubs reneged on a promise on Friday to back the plan by UEFA to expand the Champions League beginning in 2024.
The breakaway Super League intends to launch a 20-team competition with 15 founding members but only 12 have currently signed up: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham from England; Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid from Spain; and AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus from Italy.
The 12 clubs will be guaranteed annual places in the competition – in contrast to the current UEFA Champions League, which requires teams to qualify via their domestic leagues.
While having guaranteed spots in the league goes against longstanding tradition in European football, the clubs argue the Super League will create a more sustainable financial model.
“The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model,” the clubs said in their founding statement.
“The competition is to be played alongside existing domestic league and cup competitions, which are a key part of European football’s competitive fabric,” the letter said.
“We do not seek to replace the UEFA’s Champions League or the Europa League but to compete with and exist alongside those tournaments.”
The seismic move to shake up the sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, who also run franchises in closed US leagues – a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.
The breakaway has been heavily criticised by football authorities, fan organisations and politicians across Europe who say it entrenches the wealth and power of a small elite of clubs.
French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have condemned the plan and supported UEFA.
Players’ union FIFPro warned that the Super League could cause “irreparable damage,” and said “players continue to be used as assets and leverage in these negotiations” but also insisted it would “vigorously oppose measures by either side that would impede the rights of players, such as exclusion from their national teams”.
The Chair of leading Liverpool fan group Spirit of Shankly said on Monday “the hope in our hearts has been ripped out”.
“For Liverpool to be part of the leadership of it is incredibly sad,” said Joe Blott, Chair of Spirit of Shankly fan group.
The General Secretary of the Manchester City Official Supporters Club said he was “embarrassed” at City’s involvement with plans for a new European Super League.
“As football supporters, it’s all about dreaming,” said Kevin Parker.
“It’s all about having those dreams to look forward to and what these clubs have actually done, they’ve taken those dreams away from all those other football clubs and their supporters who dream of this.
“I feel embarrassed that my team, the team that I love, and I do love them, have been part of robbing those supporters of their dreams. No matter what happens with the Super League or the Champions League, we will forever be tarnished as being part of that. And I’m uncomfortable with that. I’m also sorry about that.”