Seasoned football observers would be forgiven for rolling their eyes at yet another European Super League proposal.
After all, this kind of scheme rears its ugly head every few years when Europe’s elite clubs agitate for radical change.
This one, named the European Premier League, apparently has the backing of FIFA and Wall Street financiers JP Morgan to the tune of £4.6billion.
Liverpool and Manchester United are reportedly involved in talks for elite clubs to form a highly-lucrative European Premier League competition
The new league, which would also likely feature Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid (pictured) reportedly has FIFA’s backing and £4.6bn in funds from JP Morgan
The bombshell plans are said to include a dozen or more elite teams in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France with Liverpool and Manchester United among the driving forces.
It appears to be just the latest attempt by the continent’s most influential clubs to break away from unfulfilling domestic competitions into a money-spinning closed shop playing amongst themselves.
As ever the backlash was immediate, widespread and ferocious, so with all this opposition is there any chance this latest scheme gets off the ground?
UEFA vs FIFA
The backing of FIFA means the European Premier League is clearly in opposition to UEFA’s Champions League.
It appears the competition would be played during midweek, with domestic fixtures at weekends, with the round robin league format taking up the full duration of a season and leaving no room for the Champions League.
Given that, it came as no surprise that UEFA were quick to come out and ‘strongly oppose’ the proposals when they emerged on Tuesday afternoon.
‘The UEFA president has made it clear on many occasions that UEFA strongly opposes a Super League,’ their statement read.
‘The principles of solidarity, of promotion, relegation and open leagues are non-negotiable. It is what makes European football work and the Champions League the best sports competition in the world.
UEFA were quick to condemn the new idea as they aim to protect their Champions League
‘UEFA and the clubs are committed to build on such strength, not to destroy it to create a super league of 10, 12 or even 24 clubs, which would inevitably become boring.’
Fair to say, then, that European football’s governing body is prepared to fight this power grab on its turf from FIFA.
The clash of the governing bodies is a fascinating dynamic to all this and though FIFA hasn’t yet commented on the validity of the reports, it will put them at loggerheads.
It’s only natural that UEFA would wish to protect the Champions League, which as of last season saw the tournament winners collect around £117million from an overall pot approaching £2.5bn.
The Champions League has a proven track record for drama, such as Marcus Rashford’s late winner for Manchester United against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night
The Champions League also has a proven track record for drama, especially in the knockout rounds, and so UEFA’s little dig about a European Premier League becoming ‘boring’ isn’t without foundation.
Though the plans do include a knockout tournament at the end to determine the winner, they have a point in that a lot of games in the league format would, after a while, have nothing riding on them.
This would be especially true without the jeopardy of relegation. Manchester United vs AC Milan to decide 12th spot, anyone?
There is a planned shake up and expansion of the Champions League format in 2024
The key date for all this appears to be 2024, when the present Champions League deal expires and there are murmurings of UEFA plans to increase the number of group stage participants from 32 to 36.
They’re also considering making the one-legged knockout format, staged in just one country, seen during the coronavirus pandemic this year a permanent fixture.
So UEFA certainly doesn’t appear willing to compromise the Champions League for a European Premier League anytime soon even if their boast about their clubs being on their side may not quite be true.
THE DOMESTIC LEAGUES
It goes without saying that Europe’s leading leagues will resist any notion of a Super League as it would fundamentally weaken their product.
LaLiga president Javier Tebas, not one to hold back with his opinions, was the first to come out and pour scorn on the proposals.
‘The authors of that idea – if they really exist – not only show a total ignorance of the organisation and customs of European and world football, but also a serious ignorance of the audiovisual rights markets,’ Tebas said.
‘A project of this type will mean serious economic damages to the organisers themselves and to those entities that finance it, if they exist, because they’re never official.
La Liga chief Javier Tebas has immediately slammed the European Premier League proposal
‘These underground projects only look good when drafted at a bar at five in the morning.’
Fair to say Tebas is sceptical then. He’s right, it would be an almighty legal wrangle if, say, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid tried to wrench themselves free of LaLiga to take part.
The Premier League didn’t comment but is believed to share UEFA’s view that the top clubs are trying to gain leverage ahead of talks on the proposed changes to the Champions League format from 2024.
Real Madrid are expected to make up part of the Spanish contingent in the new competition
Barcelona would also likely want to be part of the breakaway European Premier League
From an English perspective, this all comes hot on the heels of the Liverpool and Man United-led Project Big Picture plans to radically shake-up the English game.
These plans, which included reducing the number of top-flight teams from 20 to 18, scrapping the Carabao Cup and concentrating power in the hands of the ‘Big Six’ clubs, were comprehensively voted down by the rest of the Premier League.
The clubs invited to join any European Premier League wouldn’t have the votes to break away entirely from domestic competition so would probably field weakened teams each weekend while Europe took top priority.
The other alternative could be some kind of severance payment to the other clubs and the authorities or what would almost certainly be a long and messy legal fight to gain their freedom.
THE FOOTBALL CALENDAR
Which leads on nicely to another obstacle – the already hectic nature of the football calendar.
Of course this season, feeling the knock-on effects of the Covid-19 hiatus earlier in the year, is an abnormally packed schedule with no respite for top clubs through until Euro 2020 ends.
But the elite clubs would seem to want this kind of situation every single season under the European Premier League.
The prospect of even more fixtures would concern already-stretched players at the top level
While it would theoretically replace the Champions League, clubs would be required to play several more games than they do now.
If the European Premier League had 18 teams, for example, that’s 34 fixtures per season if it was a home and away format or 17 if there was just one meeting between each team.
That’s not including any end-of-season knockout to decide who wins it all.
Going all the way in this season’s Champions League would only involve 13 matches, so it’s an increase whatever the set-up.
If these games were played in midweek slots and clubs were still required to play between 34 and 38 domestic league fixtures as well, plus domestic cups competitions, the demands on squads would be extreme.
A European Premier League would place plenty of demands on fans who travel to matches
That’s before you factor in the various international fixtures as players represent your countries.
Something would have to give but more likely the top clubs would have the financial clout to effectively have a two-tier squad.
Their best players would participate in the European Premier League in the week, with in essence a B team playing in the English Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A etc at weekends.
It’s a scenario to make the purists shudder, especially if these B teams are actually still strong enough to compete for domestic honours.
While we’re at it, why not two managers as well? A weekend one and a midweek one. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility if this plan actually happens.
PUNDITS AND SUPPORTERS
The plans for a European Premier League were met by almost universal condemnation in the Twittersphere on Tuesday.
Former Liverpool defender turned Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher responded to the news with a succinct ‘Oh f*** off’ while colleague Gary Neville reiterated his calls for an independent Government-led regulator to keep the ambitions of the English Big Six in check.
Fans described the plans as an ‘elitist money grab’ and ‘another nail in football’s coffin’.
Sky Sports pundits Jamie Carragher (left) and Gary Neville reacted with dismay to the news
Liverpool legend Carragher has led the social media backlash to news that Liverpool and Manchester United are involved in plans for a European Premier League competition
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville also weighed in instantly to call for an independent regulator
Though there was plenty of resignation that such a scheme will happen eventually, FIFA and the big clubs would need to win over a lot of hearts and minds to get the wheels in motion.
As the Football Supporters’ Association put on Twitter: ‘Seriously, if you’re a club owner or football financier who thinks a global health crisis is the perfect opportunity to rip up and reshape football to suit billionaires… you have no idea how much fans detest your concept. It will not go how you think.’
Nobody thinks this is the time or the place to be launching such a breakaway but money will ultimately talk loudest.
The Football Supporters’ Association led a chorus of discontent from fans at the news
But what about the outlay for fans? The prospect of travelling across Europe to attend matches every other week is an attractive one until you consider the thousands in flights, accommodation and tickets.
Will Arsenal fans really pay out hundreds to watch their team play away to Atletico Madrid in a meeting of 13th and 15th on a Wednesday night in January?
It’s all designed for the armchair fan, who no doubt would have to take out another TV subscription to whichever network wins the rights.
Surely enough would be enough and fans would vote with their feet?
It all adds to the feeling that this latest attempt to get a European Super League going will be doomed to fail just like all the other attempts.