Six English teams are part of plans for a breakaway European Super League but how could a new competition really affect the Premier League, the Champions League and the Euros?
The Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ – Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham – are all founding members of the new midweek competition designed to rival the UEFA Champions League, along with AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid.
Details about the format have emerged but despite the European Super League’s insistence that “preserving the strength of domestic leagues is a key principle,” there could be seismic ramifications for football.
What will PL clubs discuss in crisis talks?
The 14 Premier League clubs who have no involvement in the Super League proposals will hold talks with Premier League CEO Richard Masters on Tuesday.
“This is a highly significant conference call,” said Bryan Swanson, Sky Sports News’ chief reporter.
“The six clubs involved in breakaway proposals are not included. This will be a very visible moment of how divided the Premier League clubs have become – those for a new European competition, and those who disagree with it.
“Masters will listen very carefully to the strength of feeling and, collectively, decide what happens next.”
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish said on Monday Night Football: “Of course we want them back to the table. They are massive brands, very successful. We need them in our league and we have to find a way of understanding the issues but equally we have to be strong. Hopefully we can find a resolution.”
The backlash and the legalities: ‘High-stakes game of negotiation’
The Premier League clubs who have signed up to these controversial plans were dubbed the ‘Shameless Six’ rather than the Big Six on Monday’s back pages.
The plans have prompted widespread condemnation from governing bodies to governments and royalty, players to pundits and fans.
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville – speaking before the announcement but after the plans had emerged – labelled the English clubs involved a “disgrace” and called for them to be sanctioned by the Premier League.
After the ESL’s media release, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said the footballing world was “united against the disgraceful, self-serving, proposals we have seen, fuelled purely by greed,” while Prince William, who is the current FA president, tweeted his displeasure towards the breakaway plans, saying: “Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire football community – from the top level to the grassroots – and the values of competition and fairness at its core.”
“Everyone in the game seems to be against these proposals; now we seem to be getting the clubs close to them trying to put the other side of the story; the ‘positive spin’,” said Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham insist they remain fully committed to the Premier League and the clubs involved in the project believe signing off at least €10bn in solidarity payments demonstrates their commitment to the wider game.
But a board member at one of the six Premier League clubs who are breaking away has told Sky Sports News the owners were fully expecting a backlash: “To be honest, they are not that worried about PR.”
According to the board member, the owners’ view is that their “primary job is to maximise our revenues and profits. The wider good of the game is a secondary concern”.
Ceferin has vowed action – as has UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson – but a legal storm would appear to be looming, with advice given to clubs that it would be a breach of EU and UK competition law to deny a new entrant into the market.
“It’s a high-stakes game of negotiation now,” sports lawyer Daniel Geey told Sky Sports News.
“UEFA and FIFA might be coming out and saying we won’t allow players to play in our competitions but that is a very strong position for them to use to try and get everyone round the table.
“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that this ESL is going to necessarily happen. I haven’t got a crystal ball but a letter of intent is not definitive. While this is obviously a lot more significant, with public statements on club websites, resignations, resignations from the Europen Club Association and strong words from Ceferin, things are very terse but that doesn’t mean they can’t be pulled back from the brink.”
What would it mean for Premier League if it did happen?
Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham say they remain fully committed to the Premier League.
But the board member at one of the breakaway clubs said: “If the clubs were allowed to stay in the Premier League, they would focus on midweek Super League games and it is a real possibility that they would field weakened teams for domestic games at the weekend.”
The Premier League has already released a strongly worded statement saying the European Super League would “undermine the appeal of the whole game”, and “destroy the dream of fans of any club in England and across Europe that their team may climb to the top and play against the best.”
What about the race for Europe? Who would qualify? What about promotion and relegation?
It is too soon to assess the immediate impact as clubs, technically, have yet to formally request anything with the Football Association and Premier League.
But it is worth remembering that The FA can veto any significant changes to promotion and relegation involving the Premier League – by using its ‘golden share’ – given the impact on the rest of the football pyramid.
What about the Champions League and Europa League? Are they meaningless now?
Chelsea and Manchester City have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, while Manchester United and Arsenal are in the last four of the Europa League – but UEFA chief Ceferin has called for players from all 12 breakaway clubs to be banned from all UEFA competitions “as soon as possible”.
Asked whether UEFA could hold the Champions League without the 12 clubs, Ceferin said: “Yes, of course. In Europe there are many good clubs … we will do it with or without them”.
UEFA has announced their own new Champions League proposals post-2024, with the format including no more groups and each team will play 10 different opponents, home and away.
Executive committee member Jesper Moller, who is also the head of the Danish Football Association, told national broadcaster DR: “There will be an extraordinary executive committee meeting on Friday. I have an expectation that the 12 clubs will be thrown out [of the Champions League].
“The clubs are going out, and I expect that to happen on Friday, and then you have to see how to finish the Champions League.”
Ceferin has said it is still unclear whether the proposed breakaway clubs will be involved in the remainder of this season’s Champions League and Europa League competition. Further talks will be held on Tuesday following UEFA’s Congress.
“Ceferin was very careful with his words on Monday,” said Swanson. “He’s a lawyer and won’t commit to too much during an existing competition. The fact legal talks will continue this week shows they are exploring a range of options.”
Will it affect the Euros?
Under Premier League rule L.9, which all 20 clubs sign up to, clubs must obtain ‘prior written approval of the Board’ if they wish to enter to anything other than the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, FA Community Shield, Carabao Cup or any other competition sanctioned by the county association.
That means any player whose club agrees to join an unsanctioned competition risks not playing in any UEFA or FIFA competition, including the European Championships and World Cup.
Ceferin’s warning that players from breakaway clubs should be banned from all UEFA competitions “as soon as possible” brings their participation at Euro 2020 into the spotlight.
On whether UEFA could stop players from competing in Euro 2020, he said: “We’re still assessing the situation with our legal team. It’s a bit too early. We will take all the sanctions that we can… “
But world players’ union FIFPRO said in a statement that they would “vigorously oppose measures by either side that would impede the rights of players, such as exclusion from their national teams”.
The board insider at a breakaway club told Sky Sports News that owners involved want “less football, not more football” and would be secretly delighted about the prospect of their players being banned from the Euros and World Cup: “They don’t like giving their playing assets away to countries for very little financial reward.”
As far as the logistics of this summer’s tournament are concerned, UEFA on Monday pushed back a decision on Euro 2020 host cities until Friday. Ceferin has admitted issues need resolving over three host cities that “might be excluded”.
Will it mean more mega-money transfers?
Founding clubs will receive an amount of €3.5 billion; divided by the 15 founding clubs, that is around €233m (£200m) each.
But each club’s share cannot be spent on new signings and must only be used to support infrastructure plans and offset COVID-19 impact.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said the UK Government would “do whatever it takes to protect our national game” and hinted at a potential attempt to block signings from abroad through work permit regulation.
“We are examining every option, from governance reform, to competition law, to the mechanisms that allow football to take place, like work permits and policing arrangements and taxation,” he told MPs.
What could it mean for Celtic and Rangers?
Sky Sports’ Charles Paterson believes an ESL would appeal to Rangers and Celtic.
“There have been constant intermittent rumblings from the Old Firm about a potential move to England or to an “Atlantic League”; indeed recent reports in December suggested that Celtic’s majority shareholder Dermot Desmond had turned down the chance to push ahead with plans for the latter. Whilst the grand ideas have never come to pass, they have also never been truly been buried.
“The massive, growing financial gulf between Rangers and Celtic and the rest of Scotland in some ways mirrors the chasm being created at the top of European football. The Old Firm have for some time been banging their heads against a financial glass ceiling; as they dominate in their own land, their ability to compete abroad is hampered by the limited revenues generated in the Scottish Premiership and the increasing difficulty of qualification for the Champions League group stages.
“Celtic’s outgoing chief executive Peter Lawwell sits on the ECA board and was part of an emergency call on Sunday evening. It is understood he and Celtic, like many of those clubs left out of the ESL’s party, are strongly against the breakaway.
“Yet bluntly, it must be asked: would the Old Firm jump at the chance of competing in a European Super League if they were invited? Almost certainly, considering the potential riches on offer and their duty to their shareholders. Would they have the ability to qualify? At this moment in time it would seem to be a far-fetched possibility; Celtic have crashed out of the Champions League qualifying rounds in the last three seasons and Rangers will return to Europe’s top competition next season for the first time in a decade.
“In the European hierarchy, neither can consider themselves to be among the top 20 teams on the pitch, regardless of their “size as a club”. The bigger worry for both is what may happen to the current Champions League format. Both will participate in the Champions League qualifying rounds during the summer, while Scotland’s champions next season will receive direct entry to the group stages in 2022-2023 – will that jackpot end up being worthless if the competition is much diminished?
“The Old Firm hold global appeal, with massive fanbases spread across the planet, high-quality stadia and an eternal rivalry to add extra spice. Any Super League worth its salt would surely be interested in bringing them on board if the circumstances were favourable – but for years the Glasgow giants have been forced to feed off the scraps from UEFA’s table. With the formation of an ESL, those scraps could become minuscule in the extreme.”
Gary Neville gives his opinion on reports of plans for a breakaway European Super League. Sky Sports has contacted the clubs concerned for their responses.