The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has held an emergency meeting as part hours after 12 of the continent’s leading clubs shocked the football world by announcing the formation of a breakaway Super League.
Discussion during the meeting was said to have centered on ways the European soccer’s governing body could convince the elite teams to jettison their plans and ensure the status quo remains in the football order.
The meeting was also said to center on right plans after it discovered that the U.S. investment bank JP Morgan (JPM.N) confirmed that it is financing the new league, which includes clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester United (MANU.N) and is a rival to UEFA’s established Champions League competition.
JP Morgan was said to be providing a 3.5 billion euro ($4.21 billion)grant to the founding clubs to spend on infrastructure and recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the bitter battle for control of the game and its multi-billion dollar revenues 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.
The breakaway has been heavily criticised by soccer authorities, fan organisations, and politicians across Europe who argued that the move entrenches the wealth and power of a small elite of clubs.
As planned, the breakaway clubs would 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 long-standing tradition in European football, the clubs argued that the Super League would 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 last accounts of Barcelona, one of the 12 founding clubs, showed a gross debt of more than 1.4 billion euros with net debt of 488 million. The club agreed to a temporary player pay-cut last year and had to delay payments to players in December.
In the past, breakaway threats have led to compromises between UEFA and the big clubs in the Champions League, Europe’s elite club competition, over the format and revenue distribution.
But this is the first time the wealthiest clubs have gone beyond threats and taken the step of creating a new league that they own, and announcing concrete plans to set up a rival competition.
As well as Manchester United, owned by the American Glazer family, U.S-owned Premier League clubs Liverpool and Arsenal, Abu-Dhabi backed Manchester City, Russian-owned Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur, who sacked their manager Jose Mourinho on Monday, have signed up to the plans.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid join Real Madrid from Spain. AC Milan and Inter Milan make up the trio from Italy along with Juventus (JUVE.MI).
Qatari-owned Paris St Germain and European champions Bayern Munich, which is majority-owned by the fans, have not signed up to the plans, meaning that France and Germany are not represented in the Super League as things stand.
The Super League said they aimed to have 15 founding members and a 20-team league with five other clubs qualifying each season and would start playing as “soon as is practicable”.
The 15 clubs will also own the league through a private company. They did not refer to any arrangements for the broadcasting of Super League matches.
Meanwhile, French President, Emmanuel Macron, and UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, have condemned the plans as have the major European domestic leagues and football federations.
“We are going to look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed,” Johnson said in a pooled interview.
“I don’t think that it’s good news for fans, I don’t think it’s good news for football in this country.”
Soccer’s world governing body FIFA had warned in January that any breakaway league would not be recognised by them and that players who took part in it would be banned from featuring in the World Cup.
However, FIFA took a softer tone on Sunday with a statement noting only its “disapproval” of a “closed European breakaway league” and with no mention of sanctions.
UEFA’s ruling executive committee meeting in Switzerland on Monday was originally scheduled to rubber-stamp its plans to reform and expand the Champions League.
Those plans were to expand from 32 to 36 teams and create more group stage games before the knockout rounds.