European Super League to Include Six Premier League Teams

LONDON — A group of the world’s richest and most storied soccer clubs has agreed in principle on a plan to create a breakaway European club competition that would, if it comes to fruition, upend the structures, economics and relationships that have bound global soccer for nearly a century.

After months of secret talks, the breakaway teams — which include Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Manchester United and Liverpool in England, and Juventus and A.C. Milan in Italy — could make an announcement as early as Sunday, according to multiple people familiar with the plans.

The timing of the announcement appears designed to overshadow Monday’s plan by European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, to ratify a newly designed Champions League, a competition which would be decimated by the departure of its biggest teams.

At least 12 teams have either signed up as founding members or expressed interest in joining the breakaway group, including six prominent teams from England’s Premier League, three from Spain and three from Italy, according to the people with knowledge of the plans. The group has been trying to get other top teams like Germany’s Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund to join them in their venture, but to date those clubs — and others — have declined to turn their backs on the decades-old domestic structures and Continental competitions that have underpinned European soccer for generations.

The New York Times contacted a number of clubs involved in the breakaway plans but all declined to comment or respond. A UEFA spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

UEFA and the top European Leagues, though, are bracing for the breakaway announcement. Officials spent the weekend in discussions about ways to block the plan, including potentially banning the breakaway teams from domestic leagues and from next season’s Champions League, with the breakaway slated to begin in 2022. The repercussions of that type of breakup would be seismic for all involved; without the top teams, UEFA and the leagues would face demands for millions of dollars in refunds from the broadcasters who pay billions for television rights to tournaments, and the clubs would lose revenue streams that could cripple their budgets as European soccer continues to emerge from the financial wreckage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the teams involved in the breakaway group are Juventus, the serial Italian champion. Its chairman, Andrea Agnelli, also leads the European Club Association, an umbrella body for more than 200 top division clubs, the majority of which will be left out of the proposed Super League. Asked by The New York Times earlier this year to discuss his role in the talks of a breakaway league, Agnelli brushed off the idea as a “rumor.” He is also a member of UEFA’s executive board.

Still, according to documents reviewed by The Times in January, plans for the breakaway league had gathered pace since the summer. Top clubs sought to take advantage of uncertainty in the soccer industry caused by the pandemic to forge a new path that would insure a degree of financial stability for them but almost certainly lead to a significant — and potentially devastating — loss in value and revenue for teams excluded from the project. Each of the would-be permanent members of the proposed super league are being promised 350 million euros, or $425 million to sign up, the documents said.

The teams involved are so far limited to those from Spain, Italy and England, with a cohort of six from the Premier League — United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham — that represents the biggest grouping from a single country. Atlético Madrid is the other team from Spain that is said to have endorsed the project, while the Milan rivals Internazionale and A.C. Milan would join Juventus as Italy’s representatives.

The event would, according to the documents, generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue for the participating teams, which are already the richest clubs in the sport. (An alternative version of the plan proposed 15 permanent members and five qualification spots.) The group had entered into discussions with JPMorgan Chase & Co. to raise financing for the project, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The firm has so far declined to comment.

UEFA found a powerful ally in opposition to the plans in FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. FIFA warned that any player who took part in such an unsanctioned league would be banned from appearing in the World Cup. The statement came after UEFAs president, Aleksander Ceferin, demanded support from his FIFA counterpart, Gianni Infantino, amid mounting speculation the breakaway would have FIFA’s backing.

European soccer leaders huddled on the telephone and in video conferences over the weekend to forge a counterattack. However, finding a solution to the potential loss of the biggest brands in soccer is not an easy task. The Premier League, for example, would lose much of its sheen — and almost certainly a lot of the commercial appeal that has turned it into the richest league in soccer — should it move to banish its top six teams.

As member-owned clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid would likely require the support of the thousands of their supporters before formally joining, and any German clubs that agree to take part would face similar obstacles. All can expect heavy internal opposition; fan groups from across Europe have already voiced opposition since details of the plans for a super league emerged earlier this year.

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