By Andrew Warshaw
October 21 – Yet another audacious challenge to the Champions League is reportedly being plotted behind the scenes involving Europe’s biggest clubs and altering the entire landscape of the game at elite level. It is a repeating narrative in Europe but this time round appears to have FIFA’s encouragement.
According to Sky, teams from the so-called Big Five – England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – are in negotiations about becoming founder members of a breakaway competition that could become known as the European Premier League and reportedly financed to the tune of $6 billion.
Sky quotes sources saying that FIFA are deeply involved in developing the new format, which would comprise up to 18 teams and be played during the regular European season, effectively hijacking the Champions League.
Sky quoted one source as describing the project as “potentially the most important development in world club football for decades”.
The news comes hot on the heels of the collapse of ‘Project Big Picture’ in English football that would have handed power to the big six Premier League clubs in return for a £250 million Covid-19 bailout of English Football League clubs and would also have seen the Premier League reduced in size from 20 to 18 clubs. The plan, denounced as “a backroom deal” by critics, was rapidly abandoned.
If the latest proposals bear fruit, they would constitute the kind of European super league that has been discussed behind the scenes over many years. But the fact that FIFA is involved in this one is perhaps the most interesting – some might say alarming – element of the story.
Two years ago in Zurich, FIFA hosted the inauguration of a new organisation named The World Football Clubs Association (WFCA), about which little has been heard of since.
Real Madrid’s FIFA-friendly president Florentino Perez was named as president and although the organisation’s stated aim was to promote the expanded Club World Cup, an inaugural statement said the body would discuss “all aspects related to clubs.”
Perez and Infantino are reported to have held further talks last year about reforming elements of the club game. Significantly, Real Madrid is reportedly one of the principal architects behind the creation of the European Premier League – if that’s what it will be known as.
If the current discussions are successful – and it’s a big If since the breakaway super league concept tends to rear its ugly head every few months without any firm conclusion – the competition would potentially blow the Champions League out of the water.
The very fact that FIFA is apparently a senior party in discussions will infuriate UEFA whose president Aleksander Ceferin has spent much of his term of office shooting down various rumours about big-money threats to the Champions League.
Not surprisingly, UEFA, who are in the throes of delicate discussions about the future format of the Champions League and Europa League as it prepares to go to market for the next broadcast rights cycle from 2024, were quick to denounce the latest reports of the biggest teams going off to play among themselves.
“The UEFA President has made it clear on many occasions that UEFA strongly opposes a Super League,” a statement said. “The principles of solidarity, of promotion, relegation and open leagues are non-negotiable. It is what makes European football work and the Champions League the best sports competition in the world.
“UEFA and the clubs are committed to build on such strength not to destroy it to create a super league of 10, 12, even 24 clubs, which would inevitably become boring.”
Wall Street bank JP Morgan is reported to be in talks over debt financing for the competition, to be repaid from future broadcast and commercial revenues. Crucially, the stance of the highly influential European Clubs Association in terms of whether it is for or against the idea has not yet been made public.
But there was a typically forthright response from Spanish league president Javier Tebas, who has criticised Infantino’s leadership in the past.
Tebas said the backers of the concept “if they really exist…not only show a total ignorance of the organization and customs of European and world football, but also a serious ignorance of the audiovisual rights markets.
“A project of this type will mean serious economic damage to the organizers themselves and to those entities that finance it, if they exist, because they’re never official,” Tebas added. “These ‘underground’ projects only look good when drafted at a bar at 5 in the morning.”
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