Soccer·CBC Explains

Why European Super League could reshape the future of soccer

In a bold move, 12 of the biggest soccer teams in Europe announced their intention to form their own breakaway Super League. Here’s what you need to know about this seismic development.

Breakaway league could change financial, competitive nature of the sport for generations to come

Lionel Messi’s FC Barcelona club is one of the teams that will be one of the new Super League’s founding members. (Fran Santiago/Getty Images))

The world's most popular sport is gearing up for a civil war.

On Sunday, 12 of the biggest soccer teams in Europe announced their intention to form their own breakaway Super League in a bold move that challenges the tradition and long-standing history of the European club game, and could change the financial and competitive nature of the sport for generations to come.

Here's what you need to know about this seismic development:

What is the Super League?

Currently, Europe's top teams compete in the Champions League, an annual tournament organized by UEFA (European soccer's governing body) that features the champions and best clubs from countries across the continent.

The Champions League is a huge money-maker, and Europe's wealthiest clubs, feeling that they are largely responsible for generating the tournament's profits, want a bigger say on the sale of its television and commercial rights and how the profits are divided up.

That was met with resistance by UEFA, which in turn led the continent's top teams to announce they intend to break away and launch their own Super League in August.

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Which clubs are in?

Twelve of the biggest clubs in international soccer have signed up as founding members of the breakaway Super League.

The English Premier League is the most popular domestic soccer league in world, enjoying a massive worldwide audience. Notably, its top clubs, known as the Big Six, have agreed in principle to join the Super League: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool FC, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. Between them, the Big Six have won 10 UEFA Champions League crowns and 26 English championships since 1993.

Spanish giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona (who have combined to win 18 Champions League titles) are joined by Atlético Madrid. The three biggest and most successful teams in Italy — Juventus, A.C. Milan and Inter Milan — are also chartered members of the Super League.

Which clubs are out?

Thus far, no German or French teams have signed up, including Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, last year's two Champions League finalists.

Borussia Dortmund, another German club, isn't involved in the Super League. Dortmund issued a statement on Monday that it and Bayern rejected the Super League, and are in favour of reforming the Champions League.

The absence of Bayern is a blow for this breakaway league of European heavyweights. The Bavarian outfit, which features Canadian star Alphonso Davies, is one of the biggest teams in world soccer, having won 30 German league championships and six Champions League titles.

Bayern's path to joining the Super League in the future isn't easy, either. German soccer's rules on club ownership, known as 50 per cent+1, stipulate that its fans and members must hold the majority of votes when it comes to club business. Bayern supporters, in theory, have the power to block any future attempt by the team to join the Super League.

Meanwhile, Paris Saint-Germain's Qatari owners likely don't have an appetite to disrupt the 2022 FIFA World Cup set to be played in Qatar, which could be caused by them joining the Super League. 

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Who is the financial muscle behind this Super League?

U.S. investment bank JP Morgan is financing the Super League in the form of a 3.5-billion euro grant to its founding clubs, which is earmarked for infrastructure costs and the clubs' recovery from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How will the Super League work?

The original 12 teams have received permanent places in the Super League — they can't be relegated, or be forced to qualify (unlike in the Champions League). The Super League is also looking to add three more permanent member clubs.

The 15 founding members will be joined each year by five other teams who will go through some sort of qualifying system to enter the Super League.

The plan for the first season of the Super League is to divide the field into two groups of 10, with teams playing each other in home and away games. The top three seeds in each group qualify for the quarter-finals; the fourth- and fifth-place teams in each group meet in a two-leg playoff for the remaining two spots in the quarter-finals.

From there, the competition adopts a two-leg knockout format through to the semifinals, with a single-game final staged at a neutral venue in late May 2022.

Super League games would take place midweek, thus allowing its clubs to still compete in their respective domestic divisions on the weekend.

What does this mean for Champions League?

Every year since 1955, UEFA has staged the Champions League, formerly known as the European Cup. The Champions League is the largest, most prestigious and lucrative club competition in world soccer, as it brings together the biggest and best clubs — as well as the best players in the world — from all across Europe.

What the 12 founding teams are doing, in essence, is pulling out of the Champions League and forming their own European competition that will run in direct competition against UEFA's marquee club tournament.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino and his organization disapprove of the Super League. (Markus Schreiber/The Associated Press)

What is the response from UEFA and FIFA?

UEFA has taken a hard-line stance.

It issued a joint statement with the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A, saying they remain united in their "efforts to stop this cynical project," and calling the Super League "a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs."

UEFA said it is considering all measures, both legal and sporting, to prevent the launch of the Super League. UEFA is also threatening to ban the Super League clubs from playing in their domestic leagues, and bar players on Super League teams from playing for their respective national teams. FIFPro, the union representing 60,000 soccer players around the world, said it would "vigorously oppose measures … that would impede the rights of players, such as exclusion from their national teams."

While UEFA said it plans to fight the Super League, FIFA hasn't been nearly as forceful, issuing a statement that declared its disapproval of a "closed European breakaway league outside of the international football structures." But world soccer's governing body stopped well short of making any threats, saying only that it will "do whatever is necessary to contribute to a harmonized way forward in the overall interests of football."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for a number of media outlets, including CBC Sports, Sportsnet and Sun Media. During his time at CBC Sports, John travelled to South Africa to cover the 2010 FIFA World Cup for CBCSports.ca. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Canadian game.

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