Soccer

European soccer in turmoil as 12 top clubs launch breakaway Super League

Players at the 12 clubs setting up their own Super League could be banned from this year's European Championship and next year's World Cup, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said Monday.

UEFA threatens to ban teams' players from next year's World Cup

Liverpool's Thiago, right, is challenged by Real Madrid's Federico Valverde during a Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday. The two teams are part of a group of 12 top clubs in Europe that have announced their intention to form their own Super League. (Jon Super/The Associated Press)

Players at the 12 clubs setting up their own Super League could be banned from this year's European Championship and next year's World Cup, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said Monday.

Ceferin showed his sense of anger and betrayal by the leaders of some wealthy European clubs as he spoke of "snakes," and wished UEFA could ban Super League clubs and players "as soon as possible" from all of its competitions.

Whether UEFA's lawyers will advise that — with the Champions League and Europa League semifinals starting next week, and Euro 2020 kicking off in June — is unclear. 

Ceferin spoke following a UEFA executive committee meeting and said some "legal assessments" will begin Tuesday morning. The meeting was held only hours after the English, Italian and Spanish clubs announced the Super League project that threatens to split the historic structure of European soccer.

"They will not be able to represent their national teams at any matches," Ceferin earlier warned. "UEFA and the footballing world stand united against the disgraceful self-serving proposal we have seen in last 24 hours from a select few clubs in Europe that are fuelled purely by greed above all else."

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The formation of the new Super League has created a lot of chatter inside European soccer. Listen to what the soccer world, including fans, have to say about the decision. 1:33

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, the founding chairman of the Super League, downplayed UEFA's threat to ban players.

The players "can be assured that this won't happen," Perez said in a late-night Spanish television interview. "It's not going to happen. We won't get into the legal aspects of it, but it won't happen. It's impossible."

UEFA's 55 member federations are gathering for an annual meeting on Tuesday, including 24 nations that are playing in Euro 2020.

Three of the 12 rebels — Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid — are scheduled to play in the Champions League semifinals next week. Two more, Manchester United and Arsenal, are in the Europa League semifinals.

The 12 clubs have told the leaders of FIFA and UEFA that they have begun legal action aimed at fending off threats to block the competition.

The letter was sent by the group of English, Spanish and Italian clubs to FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Ceferin, saying the Super League has already been underwritten by funding of 4 billion euros ($6 billion Cdn) from a financial institution.

Currently, teams have to qualify each year for the Champions League through their domestic leagues, but the Super League would lock in 15 places every season for the founding members. The seismic move to shake up the sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, who also run franchises in closed U.S. leagues — a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.

UEFA warned the Super League clubs, including Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus, that legal action would be taken against them and said they would be barred from existing domestic competitions like the Spanish league, the Premier League and international competitions.

"We are concerned that FIFA and UEFA may respond to this invitation letter by seeking to take punitive measures to exclude any participating club or player from their respective competitions," the Super League clubs wrote to Infantino and Ceferin in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

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

'Protective steps'

"Your formal statement does, however, compel us to take protective steps to secure ourselves against such an adverse reaction, which would not only jeopardize the funding commitment under the grant but, significantly, would be unlawful. For this reason, SLCo (Super League Company) has filed a motion before the relevant courts in order to ensure the seamless establishment and operation of the vompetition in accordance with applicable laws."

The courts were not named.

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The Super League intends to launch a 20-team competition with 15 founding members but only 12 have currently signed up. The others are Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham from England, Atletico Madrid from Spain, and AC Milan and Inter Milan from Italy.

The breakaway was launched just as UEFA thought it had agreement on an expansion of the Champions League from 2024. Now, the same officials who backed the plans have decided to go it alone while claiming the existing competitions could remain — despite losing their most successful teams, including record 13-time European champion Real Madrid and six-time winner Liverpool.

Possible sanctions

"The competition is to be played alongside existing domestic league and cup competitions, which are a key part of European football's competitive fabric," reads the Super League letter to Infantino and Ceferin. "We do not seek to replace the UEFA's Champions League or the Europa League but to compete with and exist alongside those tournaments."

Former United midfielder Ander Herrera is one of the few current players to speak out against the proposal. Herrera plays for Paris Saint-Germain, the French champion that is so far refusing to take part in the Super League alongside big clubs in Germany like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Hansi Flick, head coach of FC Bayern Munich, which is not part of the new league, says the move 'would not be good for European soccer.' (Getty Images)

Opposition to move

"I believe in an improved Champions League," he told his 2.7 million followers on Twitter, "but not in the rich stealing what the people created, which is nothing other than the most beautiful sport on the planet."

Bayern coach Hansi Flick said he opposes the Super League.

"I think it would not be good for European soccer," Flick said Monday.

Dortmund said that it and Bayern both reject the Super League and are in favour of reforming the existing Champions League. Both are on the board of the European Club Association, which held an emergency meeting Sunday after representatives of the Super League clubs quit the organization.

"It was the clear opinion of the members of the ECA board that the plans for founding a Super League are rejected," Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said in a statement.

"Both of the German clubs which are represented on the ECA board, FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, put forward 100 per cent identical views in all conversations."

ECA leader resigns

The agreement was negotiated with the 246-member European Club Association. The ECA's leader, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, resigned from the UEFA executive committee overnight.

"He is probably biggest disappointment of all," Ceferin said of Agnelli, whose young daughter he became godfather to. "I have never seen a person that would lie so many times and so persistently as he did.

"Now I know who is who. Who is honest. Who loves football."

In their letter to the FIFA and UEFA presidents, the Super League clubs said their competition could also play alongside domestic leagues and cups.

"We do not seek to replace the UEFA's Champions League or the Europa League," they said, "but to compete with and exist alongside those tournaments."

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