Fifa has sought to block the launch of a breakaway “super league”, as top clubs including Real Madrid and Manchester United ramp up talks over creating a new competition that would radically alter the finances of the world’s most popular sport.
Football’s global governing body on Thursday said it will refuse to recognise the proposed new league of elite European teams, which would mean any players involved could not take part in existing international tournaments, such as the World Cup, widely considered the pinnacle of the sport.
“Any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organised by Fifa or their respective confederation,” the body said in a statement that was co-signed by the six major football “confederations” — continental bodies that run the sport across the world.
Fifa, which has previously dismissed the super league project as rumour and speculation, made the announcement following revelations about the progress of JPMorgan-backed proposals for a new European contest featuring 20 top clubs. The plans centre around launching a league that would include 15 permanent member clubs, with a further five spots available each season to qualifying teams, according to people who have seen documents outlining proposals for the competition.
The New York Times and The Times of London were first to reveal details from the working documents. JPMorgan has been assembling a $6bn debt financing package to launch the competition, with founding clubs set to be offered €350m each to join the contest. Matches will be played midweek, in effect replacing Europe’s existing Champions League tournament where €2bn is shared between 32 participating clubs. JPMorgan declined to comment.
The super league is being spearheaded by Florentino Pérez, the president of Spain’s Real Madrid, but has also been discussed by the Glazer family, the owners of England’s Manchester United, and top executives at leading clubs in Spain and Italy, said people familiar with the discussions. Real Madrid and Manchester United did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The globalisation of football has attracted billions of dollars from broadcasters and sponsors, but investors are increasingly seeking a steady return on their investment. Adopting a “closed” model, which removes the threat of relegation, gives elite clubs certainty of their participation and their owners more predictable revenues.
The talks have been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to steep losses at top clubs. Barcelona reported a €100m pre-tax loss last season, hit by a revenue shortfall of €200m, while Manchester United lost £23.2m on a net basis. Inter Milan, which Chinese retail conglomerate Suning, the majority owner, has put up for sale, made a pre-tax loss of €102m last season.
Broadcasters demanded rebates because of the disruption to the 2019/20 season, while in Europe, home to the world’s richest clubs, matches are still being played in empty stadiums amid pandemic restrictions. Partly in response to the super league talks, Uefa is set to announce sweeping reform of the Champions League in the coming weeks in an effort to secure elite teams’ commitment to the competition. Changes are expected to include an expanded group stage, which will increase ticketing revenues as the number of guaranteed matches each season rises to 10 from six.