Football: Creation of a European Super League?

By Jonathan Copping, Lawyer, Stone King LLP, London, UK

Following the publication and subsequent dismissal of ‘Project Big Picture’ last month (see Post by Jonathan Copping of 24 October 2020), news broke of a possible European Super League.

It is not the first time that a European Super League has been proposed and discussed.

In 2018, it was reported, by the German publication, Der Spiegel, following the publication of documents by Football Leaks, that there had been secret talks between a number of leading European clubs regarding the commencement of a potential European Super League from 2021.

The Football Leaks documents claimed that Real Madrid had joined forces with AC Milan, Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Manchester United, who secretly had discussed forming a European Super League without UEFA’s knowledge. It was alleged that the plan would have been for the participating teams to leave their national leagues and football associations behind entirely.

On 20 October 2020, it was widely reported in the media that talks had taken place over the creation of a £4.6bn European Super League. These talks allegedly have involved the leading Wall Street Bank, JP Morgan, and a number of leading European clubs, including five English Premier League clubs. Manchester United and Liverpool, the two clubs behind ‘Project Big Picture’, were reported to be two of the five Premier League clubs.

The aim was for the European Super League to replace the Champions League with an eighteen-team ‘closed’ League, that is, with no promotion or relegation. The new League would comprise teams from England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

European football’s governing body, UEFA, has, unsurprisingly, opposed the plan. UEFA Vice-President, Fernando Gomes, stated:

It violates all principles of sporting merit. It would be a self-proclaimed privileged club………..It deserves my refusal because the world is currently experiencing its greatest challenge, at least for the last century, and the last thing it needs is the exacerbation of selfishness and greed,”

Prior to his resignation, at the end of October, Barcelona President, Josep Maria Bartomeu, claimed that Barcelona had signed up to participate in the European Super League. In his statement, Bartomeu remarked:

I can announce some extraordinary news, yesterday we accepted a proposal to participate in a future European Super League, which would guarantee the future financial sustainability of the club. And we’ve accepted the future CWC format.

Notwithstanding Bartomeu’s claim, Barcelona could only sign up if the club’s members ratify and approve the decision.

Following Bartomeu’s statement, La Liga President, Javier Tebas, criticised the plans for a European Super League on his twitter account, stating:

Unfortunate @jmbartomeu statement on his last day about @fcbarcelona joining a weak and imaginary competition which would be their ruin. It confirms his ignorance about the football industry. Sad end for a president with successes and lately many mistakes.

It is hardly surprising that the La Liga President would disapprove of the idea of a European Super League.

Barcelona, together with Real Madrid, are the most successful and most followed clubs in Spain. If both clubs were to leave La Liga, it would most likely be a significant blow to its commercial success.

Whilst the idea of a European Super League may only be at a very preliminary stage, it is clear that a number of the biggest clubs in Europe are keen to explore the idea.

With domestic leagues appearing to hit market saturation point, the biggest clubs in Europe realise that a European Super League can elevate them to an even greater level in commercial terms.

Whether supporters and the current regulatory bodies can prevent the creation of a European Super League remains to be seen – doubtful on the basis of European Union Competition Law – and it is likely that there will be a lot of obstacles to overcome before a European Super League comes into existence.

Whatever happens, it looks as though the present state of football is likely to change, particularly as a result of the economic effects on football clubs of the COVID-19 Pandemic!

Jonathan Copping may be contacted by e-mail at ‘JonathanCopping@stoneking.co.uk’