The Boston-owned Liverpool Football Club joined 11 other European powerhouse soccer clubs in a rebellious plan to create a breakaway European “Super League” tournament that would not only supplant the prestigious and already lucrative Champions League but also alter the economic and competitive infrastructure of the world’s most popular sport.
Talks of the plan have been rumored for months, but this weekend’s leaks were timed to pre-empt Monday’s announcement from UEFA, the governing European soccer body, about a re-designed Champions League.
The New York Times and The Times of London were first to report the news.
Revelation of the plan sparked immediate and intense pushback from all quarters of Europe, and the sport’s powerful governing bodies, with threats of legal action meant to dissuade other clubs from joining the rogue dozen.
Even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson weighed in, calling the plan “very damaging” in a tweet. “The clubs involved must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps.”
Efforts to obtain comment from those familiar with the plan were unsuccessful.
Besides Liverpool, five of the other top English Premier League clubs — Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal — joined the effort, along with three teams from Spain’s La Liga — Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid — and three from Italy’s Lega Serie A — Juventus, A.C. Milan and Inter Milan.
To date, no clubs from the French and German leagues, the two remaining national superpower leagues, have joined the “Super Club” league.
The Champions League, won by Liverpool in 2019, is an annual months-long elimination tournament that creates substantial revenues for qualifying clubs. Liverpool is owned by Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Red Sox. John Henry, the principal owner of FSG, owns the Boston Globe.
A statement from the 12 founding clubs — three more still unidentified clubs are expected to join the group — cited the “instability” arising from the economic impact of the pandemic as a leading force behind the drive to create the new league.
“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,” read the statement. “Further, for a number of years, the Founding Clubs have had the objective of improving the quality and intensity of existing European competitions throughout each season, and of creating a format for top clubs and players to compete on a regular basis.”
The “Super League” 20-team concept would eliminate the need for annual top-of-their-league finishes from its 15 founding members, who would automatically be entrants no matter what their performance. Five other clubs would need to qualify to enter the tournament, with media and other revenues tilted in favor of the founding member clubs. The annual media revenues projected in the Super League would work out to a $4.86 billion.
The plan would reportedly earn each of the 15 founding members a portion of at least $4.2 billion in initial grants. The money would then be split among four club tiers, with the six clubs in the top tier each receiving $420 million.
The number of games in the Super League would be at least 18, with the new Champions League plan expected to allow for only a minimum of 10 games.
Henry was not one of three club owners issuing a statement in support of the league.
Malcolm Glazer, owner of Manchester United and also the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said: “By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid.”
A response from UEFA and all member associations from every league and association on the continent, including FIFA, the global governing body of the sport, decried “this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.
“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”
The statement said that the breakaway clubs will be banned from all domestic and European competition and that “their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.”
In its own statement, the Premier League, which Liverpool won last year, condemned the plan in similarly plain and forceful language as UEFA, saying that the concept “would destroy” the dream of European soccer fans that their club could compete for a Champions League spot.
“A European Super League will undermine the appeal of the whole game, and have a deeply damaging impact on the immediate and future prospects of the Premier League and its member clubs, and all those in football who rely on our funding and solidarity to prosper.”
Liverpool was unsuccessful in its defense of its 2020 Premier League title this season, and was knocked out of this year’s Champions League in the quarterfinals last week.
With seven games to play in its current season, Liverpool sits in sixth place. Only the top four teams from the Premier League gain a spot in the following year’s Champions League competition.
(Material from an Associated Press report was included in this story.)
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.