European soccer split: elite clubs threaten breakaway league

LONDON (AP) — A group of elite clubs split European soccer on Sunday with plans to walk away from the Champions League to create a breakaway competition, drawing an angry response and the threat of legal action from UEFA.

The moves to quit the existing structures in an apparent grab for more money and power include Real Madrid, Barcelona, the American owners of Liverpool and Manchester United, Juventus and AC Milan. No German or French clubs have signed up.

The Super League plans, which were first leaked in January, have escalated into a greater threat to implement them on the eve of UEFA's planned announcement of a new format for the Champions League. While the long-standing existing competition that grew from the European Cup would increase to 36 teams and add more games as desired by the wealthiest clubs, they remained frustrated that UEFA would not grant more control of the sale of television and commercial rights.

Still, the European Club Association’s board, which is led by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, and the UEFA clubs’ competitions committee on Friday had signed up to expanding the Champions League from 2024 — ahead of ratification by the UEFA executive committee, including Agnelli, on Monday.

The rebel clubs are all members of the ECA which has a working agreement with UEFA, signed in 2019, which commits all its members to take part in and respect the Champions League and other European competitions through the 2023-24 season.

Now UEFA has announced it has “learned that a few English, Spanish and Italian clubs may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League.” The plan was called a “cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs” in a statement from UEFA jointly with the leagues and national governing bodies from England, Spain and Italy.

“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. "As previously announced by FIFA and the six Federations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams."

While FIFA issued a statement in January warning players in a Super League could be banned from the World Cup, the world governing body has not denied that its president, Gianni Infantino, has been involved in the breakaway talks with officials, including Real Madrid president Florentino Perez.

Despite Agnelli’s role with the ECA and at the heart of UEFA with a position on its executive committee, Juventus is said to be one of the teams involved in the Super League along with AC Milan. Both Juventus and Milan declined to comment.

Manchester clubs City and United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham are also part of the Super League, which the Premier League said would “undermine the appeal of the whole game” by going against the principles of open competition.

“Fans of any club in England and across Europe can currently dream that their team may climb to the top and play against the best," the Premier League said. “We believe that the concept of a European Super League would destroy this dream.”

“The Premier League is proud to run a competitive and compelling football competition that has made it the most widely watched league in the world. Our success has enabled us to make an unrivalled financial contribution to the domestic football pyramid.”

The creation of a 20-team annual competition would include 15 top clubs as permanent members based on plans seen in January by the AP. The five other teams would vary each season, although the qualification method has not been determined.

Each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in initial infrastructure grants. The money would be split among four tiers of clubs, with the top six each getting 350 million euros ($420 million).

The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top four from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. That would guarantee every team 18 annual Super League matches, compared to a minimum of ten games in the planned new-look Champions League group stage.

The games — apart from the final — would be played in midweek like the current Champions League, allowing them to still play in domestic competitions.

This latest Super League proposal hopes to generate 4 billion euros ($4.86 billion) annually from broadcasters.

In comparison, UEFA said the total commercial revenue was 3.25 billion euros ($3.9 billion) for each of the past three seasons from selling the rights to the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup.

Those numbers fund billions of dollars in prize money to clubs each season, though have been slightly reduced by disruption from the pandemic.

For the 2021-24 sales cycle, UEFA is expected to sell around $14 billion in broadcast and sponsor deals for its club competitions, which includes the new third-tier Europa Conference League.

Those sales were completed worldwide on the legal commitment of top clubs to play according to the UEFA-ECA accord. Any breach of the cooperation deal would likely lead to legal threats and suits.

In the Super League business plan, the 15 founding clubs of the new competition would take the greatest slice of the broadcasting revenue.

The apparent greed by a select group of clubs to create a “closed shop” has been condemned by the British government.

“Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that undermines this is deeply troubling and damaging for football,” British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said.

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AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Montreux, Switzerland, contributed to this report

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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