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April 21, 2021

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FIFA warns of ‘consequences’ for rebel clubs

FIFA President Gianni Infantino yesterday warned that clubs involved in the European Super League could face “consequences,” as the backlash built against the deeply divisive plans.

Infantino gave his support to European football’s governing body as it attempts to quash an initiative that threatens its prized UEFA Champions League and the health of domestic competitions such as the English Premier League.

“It is our task to protect the European sport model, so if some elect to go their own way then they must live with the consequences of their choices,” Infantino said at UEFA’s congress in Switzerland. “They are responsible for their choices.”

Twelve powerful clubs — six from England, and three each from Spain and Italy — have signed up for the Super League, which offers guaranteed spots for its founding members and billions of dollars in payments.

Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are the English clubs involved, together with Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid from Spain and Italian trio Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

Currently, teams have to qualify for the UCL each year through their national competitions, and face a lengthy group phase before reaching the high-profile latter stages.

The Super League would guarantee a spot for its founding members every year, removing the uncertainty of qualification and the accompanying risks to revenue.

The breakaway plan prompted a furious reaction from fans and officials, with UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin saying on Monday it was motivated by “greediness, selfishness and narcissism,” and Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp saying its closed nature was “not right.”

Klopp’s City counterpart Pep Guardiola also came out against a closed competition, which he said is “not sport.”

“It’s not a sport when success is already guaranteed, it’s not a sport if it doesn’t matter if you lose,” said the Spaniard.

Yesterday, Ceferin implored club owners, particularly those of EPL teams, to row back on the plans. “There’s still time to change your mind. Everyone makes mistakes,” said the Slovenian. “English fans deserve to have you correct your mistake, they deserve respect.”

Three more clubs are expected to sign up, including “at least two” from France, a source said. Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain is a notable absentee, while reigning European champion Bayern Munich has distanced itself from the project.

“Paris Saint-Germain holds the firm belief that football is a game for everyone,” said PSG President Nasser al-Khelaifi in a statement.

Five more clubs will qualify annually for the 20-team, midweek competition, where two groups of 10 will precede two-legged quarterfinals and semifinals and a one-off final. The competition is due for launch “as soon as is practicable.”

It constitutes a serious threat to UEFA, which together with the English, Spanish and Italian football authorities said the clubs could be banned from domestic and European competition.

The British government also said it was considering invoking competition law to block the breakaway.

Backed by US investment bank JP Morgan, the Super League is offering the founding clubs an initial pot of 3.5 billion euros (US$4 billion) for infrastructure investment and to offset COVID-19 pandemic costs.

The clubs, most of them heavily indebted and saddled with enormous player salaries, are expected to receive a further 10 billion euros in “solidarity payments” over the life of the initial commitment — much more than the returns available in the UCL.


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