The world of association football was thrown into chaos at the weekend when 12 major clubs announced they would form a breakaway league and governing bodies threw threats of bans and points deductions.
So what the hell is actually going on?
So far some of the biggest teams in Europe have signed on: English giants Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, Italians Juventus, AC Milan and Inter, and Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid from Spain. So far no teams from Germany or France (let alone smaller nations) are involved. Indeed, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund of Germany and France’s reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain have all turned it down.
Ultimately the aim is a 20-team “super league” of Europe’s biggest clubs, with 15 permanent members and five qualifying by other (as yet unspecified) means.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Why is this happening?
Greed, ultimately. The big clubs have long complained about not making more money from the UEFA Champions League, the lucrative 32-team tournament which pits the biggest clubs in Europe against one another. The threat is to break away and form their own league where they get all the astronomical sums of money generated by sponsorship and TV deals.
It’s distinctly possible this threat (which has loomed over negotiations between the clubs and governing bodies for years) is just the boldest and most explicit gambit at improving their share yet. For what it’s worth, the teams are hardly being stiffed at the moment — netting a handy 2.7 million euros a win (A$4 million) in 2018-19.
But the sums being thrown around this new league are eye-watering; 3.5 billion euros (A$5.4 billion) just for signing up, and uncapped “solidarity payments” of potentially more than 10 billion euros a year (A$15.4 billion).
What does it mean for the game?
A few things. Mostly, it kills the Champions League and cements the power dynamic even more firmly in favour of the rich clubs. Under the current system, teams qualify for the Champions League based on their performance the season before — so finish in the top four spots in England, say, and you get a Champions League berth.
So the super league not only guarantees the continent’s biggest clubs access to the biggest and most lucrative audiences, it guarantees it to only them. Thus they are saved the hassle of having to, you know, play well. To put it in context, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal are, for all their riches, failing to qualify for Europe in the English league.
So the league would further entrench an already mad inequity in professional football: the achievements of teams that have managed to achieve a high finish with more modest resources would be less likely to be rewarded. It’s a move that could only be backed, as Guardian football writer Jonathan Liew put it, by someone who hates football.
What do FIFA and UEFA have to say?
UEFA, in conjunction with its member federations (including England, Spain and Italy), has threatened to ban the breakaway teams from their domestic competitions. FIFA, meanwhile, has said it could ban rebel players from taking part in intentional competitions like the World Cup — not to mention regional international competitions and European Championship and probably other regional tournaments like the Copa America, Asian Cup, Gold Cup, Africa Cup of Nations and Oceania Nations Cup.
But it’s the big clubs who hold all the aces. After all, does a La Liga without Barcelona and Real Madrid pull in anything like the same number of eyeballs worldwide? What of a World Cup from which most of the world’s best players are banned?
What’s the broader response?
Let’s just say no one outside the clubs seems happy. Former England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville summed up the views of many:
It’s an absolute disgrace. We have to wrestle back power in this country from the clubs at the top of this league — and that includes my club. It’s pure greed, they’re impostors. The owners of Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City have nothing to do with football in this country. Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham aren’t even in the Champions League. Have they even got the right to be in there? They’re an absolute joke. Time has come now to have independent regulators to stop these clubs from having the power base. Enough is enough.
What do you think of the breakaway league? Write to email@example.com. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.