Liverpool, Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham are understood to be involved in plans for a European Super League; Premier League and UEFA robustly condemn the proposals; PM Boris Johnson opposed to plans; a number of top Italian and Spanish clubs are believed to be involved
Sunday 18 April 2021 23:22, UK
The 'big six' clubs from England's Premier League are expected to be part of plans for a breakaway European Super League, with an announcement due on Sunday night, Sky News understands.
The English clubs involved are Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham.
The project has been launched to rival UEFA's Champions League format which currently dominates European football.
Sky News' City editor Mark Kleinman said: "My understanding is that 12 clubs from across Europe including the six biggest English clubs have now signed up to this new format. The others include Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid."
Kleinman added: "The new league includes staggering sums of money that will be handed to the participating clubs. About $5billion has been committed to this new project by the American bank JP Morgan.
"And this will come after European clubs' finances have been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic which is one of the reasons why so many of Europe's biggest clubs have decided that now is the right time to form a European Super League after years of on/off discussions about such a project."
Sky Sports News has contacted the six Premier League clubs for comment; Manchester United and Tottenham both declined to give a response regarding the proposals.
Speaking after Manchester United's 3-1 win over Burnley on Sunday, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville labelled the English clubs involved a "disgrace" and called on the Premier League to punish them.
"The reaction to it is that it has been damned and rightly so," he said. "I'm a Manchester United fan and have been for 40 years of my life but I'm disgusted, absolutely disgusted.
"Deduct them all points tomorrow. Put them at the bottom of the league and take the money off them."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to Twitter on Sunday evening to label the proposals "very damaging" and call on clubs to "answer to their fans and the wider footballing community".
He posted: "Plans for a European Super League would be very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action.
"They would strike at the heart of the domestic game, and will concern fans across the country.
"The clubs involved must answer to their fans and the wider footballing community before taking any further steps."
A statement from the European Club Association (ECA), released on Sunday evening said it "strongly" opposes the idea of a "closed Super League model" which has been reported on.
The ECA has expressed a desire to work with UEFA on amending the structure of European club football from 2024 onwards.
The statement read: "In light of today's reports on the subject of a so-called breakaway league, the ECA as the body representing 246 leading clubs across Europe, reiterates its stated commitment to working on developing the UEFA Club Competitions model with UEFA for the cycle beginning 2024 and that 'closed super league model' to which media articles refer would be strongly opposed by the ECA.
"ECA would refer to the position adopted by its Executive Board at its meeting last Friday, April 16. Namely that it supports a commitment to work with UEFA on a renewed structure for European Club Football as a whole post-2024, including proposed changes to the UEFA Club Competitions post-2024.
"With ECA's support, UEFA Executive Committee is being asked to endorse these commitments at its meeting on April 19 along with pursuing efforts to reach an agreement on the future relationship between ECA and UEFA.
"The ECA Executive Board will be convening over the coming days to take appropriate decisions in light of any further developments."
The Premier League's chief executive Richard Masters has written to all 20 of the league's clubs in England to state its opposition to the new project.
Mr Masters told the 20 that "this venture cannot be launched without English clubs and we call upon any club contemplating associating themselves or joining this venture to walk away immediately before irreparable damage is done".
"We do not and cannot support such a concept," Masters' memo read.
"Premier League rules contain a commitment amongst clubs to remain within the football pyramid and forbid any clubs from entering competitions beyond those listed in Rule L9, without Premier League board permission.
"I cannot envisage any scenario where such permission would be granted."
The move to create a rival league is being seen by some in football as a surprise after the European Club Association (ECA), which represents 246 of the continent's leading clubs, gave their backing to UEFA's reforms.
UEFA has proposed an increase to 36 from 32 teams in the Champions League, and an overhaul of the group stage into a single table rather than the current groups of four clubs.
Teams would play 10 matches each in the group stage rather than the six they currently play and a playoff round would also be introduced before the last 16.
There have been reports of a plan for a breakaway league for a number of years and the speculation returned in January with several media reports that a document had been produced outlining the plans for a 20-team league.
Those reports led FIFA and UEFA to warn they would ban any players involved in a breakaway from playing in the World Cup or European Championship.
The Premier League has hit out at the plans for a breakaway European league, releasing the following statement: "The Premier League condemns any proposal that attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart of the domestic and European football pyramid.
"Fans of any club in England and across Europe can currently dream that their team may climb to the top and play against the best. We believe that the concept of a European Super League would destroy this dream.
"The Premier League is proud to run a competitive and compelling football competition that has made it the most widely watched league in the world. Our success has enabled us to make an unrivalled financial contribution to the domestic football pyramid.
"A European Super League will undermine the appeal of the whole game, and have a deeply damaging impact on the immediate and future prospects of the Premier League and its member clubs, and all those in football who rely on our funding and solidarity to prosper.
"We will work with fans, The FA, EFL, PFA and LMA, as well as other stakeholders, at home and abroad, to defend the integrity and future prospects of English football in the best interests of the game."
In a joint statement with national governing bodies and top-flight leagues in England, Italy and Spain - UEFA has robustly condemned the plans being discussed by some of the continent's elite clubs, stressing that the organisations will remain united in opposing the "cynical" initiative, and will use all methods available to them, including legal action, to prevent the scheme from being put into practice.
European football's governing body also stipulates that teams involved in such a league would not be allowed to participate in other "domestic, European or world level" competitions and that players may be stopped from representing their countries.
UEFA has also praised clubs in France and Germany who, according to the governing body, have refused to take part in discussions over a European Super League concept.
A full statement read: "UEFA, the English Football Association and the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and LaLiga, and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A have learned that a few English, Spanish and Italian clubs may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League.
"If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we - UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations - will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.
"We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.
"As previously announced by FIFA and the six Federations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.
"We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough."
In January, FIFA had said that a breakaway league would not be recognised and that "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" - meaning players would be banned from the World Cup.
The EU Parliament Sports Group - which represents 125 MEPs - has criticised the proposed European Super League, saying that the proposals have "no other purpose than making a profit".
The Football Association has indicated it will not grant any approval for any team to join such a league and says it will work with FIFA and the aforementioned bodies to ensure the "integrity" and "future" of the game is preserved.
A statement read: "The FA has been made aware of certain English clubs planning to form a closed European Super League with other European clubs. It is clear that this would be damaging to English and European football at all levels and will attack the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are fundamental to competitive sport.
"For new competitions to be formed involving clubs from different associations, approval would be required from the relevant National Associations, confederation and/or FIFA. We would not provide permission to any competition that would be damaging to English football, and will take any legal and/or regulatory action necessary to protect the broader interests of the game.
"We note FIFA confirmed earlier this year that they and the six confederations would not recognise any such competition and, as such, any player or club involved may not be permitted to participate in any official competition which falls within the auspices of FIFA or their respective confederation.
"The FA will continue to work with UEFA, FIFA and the Premier League to seek to ensure that nothing is approved that he has the potential to damage English football. We will work with fans, The Premier League, EFL, PFA and LMA, as well as other stakeholders, at home and abroad, to defend the integrity and future prospects of English football in the best interests of the game."
Government DCMS (Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport) secretary Oliver Dowden has criticised the proposals and the involvement of the six English sides, adding that he would be "bitterly disappointed" if any move to create a European Super League took place.
He tweeted: "Football supporters are the heartbeat of our national sport and any major decisions made should have their backing.
"With many fans, we are concerned that this plan could create a closed shop at the very top of our national game. Sustainability, integrity, and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that undermines this is deeply troubling and damaging for football.
"We have a football pyramid where funds from the globally successful Premier League flow down the leagues and into local communities. I would be bitterly disappointed to see any action that destroys that."
Analysis by Bryan Swanson, Sky Sports News' Chief Reporter...
"This is a major development involving Europe's top clubs and its significance cannot be underestimated. Yes, we have been here before but this feels different.
"The swift, furious, response by UEFA was summed in three words: 'Enough is enough'. They are livid, on the eve of their own announcement over Champions League changes post-2024.
"The Premier League has also made its strong opposition clear and CEO Richard Masters has contacted them to stress the importance of ceasing all talks on a proposed European breakaway.
"Under Premier League rule L.9, which all 20 clubs sign up to, clubs must obtain 'prior written approval of the Board' if they wish to enter to anything other than the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, FA Community Shield, Carabao Cup or any other competition sanctioned by the county association.
"Any player, whose club agrees to join an unsanctioned competition, also risks not playing in the World Cup and European Championship.
"This is about much more than an additional, highly lucrative, European league. At its core is the very foundation of football competitions."
Six English teams are expected to be part of plans for a breakaway European Super League, but what do we know so far?
What's happened? Which clubs are involved? What's been the reaction? How likely is it? What are the potential ramifications? What would be the format and who is financing it?
Gary Neville gives his opinion on reports of plans for a breakaway European Super League. Sky Sports has contacted the clubs concerned for their responses.
Sky Sports' Gary Neville:
"I'm not against the modernisation of football competitions, we have the Premier League, we have the Champions League. But to bring forward proposals in the midst of COVID, in the midst of the economic crisis that exists for all clubs is an absolute scandal.
"United and the rest of the big six clubs that have signed up to it against the rest of the Premier League should be ashamed of themselves.
"European Super League? Are Arsenal in that? They have just drawn with Fulham, Manchester United are drawing with Burnley. I cannot concentrate on the game. To sign up to the Super League during a season is a joke, they should deduct points off all six of them."
Sky Sports' Roy Keane:
"It comes down to money, greed, it doesn't sound good. Let's hope it's stopped in its tracks because it's pure greed. We talk about the big clubs, Bayern Munich are one of the biggest in the world, at least they have made a stand, which is a start."
Sky Sports' Micah Richards:
"The Premier League has been run amazingly, and clubs are businesses and investments. But what happens to the fans, the memories of what the fans have had over the years?
"Are they to be forgotten about for the sake of money? That's what football has become now, it's an absolute disgrace."
A new 36-team Champions League format from 2024 is set for final approval by UEFA's executive committee on Monday.
A decision had initially been expected on March 31 but was delayed due to some clubs within the European Club Association seeking a greater say on commercial matters for the new competition.
However, meetings of the ECA board and of UEFA's club competitions committee on Friday have cleared the way for the new format to be rubber-stamped. It is understood the differences which led to the first delay have been set aside rather than resolved.
The expanded format is a cause of concern for the Premier League and many other European domestic competitions, while fans' groups wrote an open letter to ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli criticising it on Friday morning.
European football's governing body will also make a final decision on host venues for Euro 2020, with Bilbao, Dublin and Munich the three yet to be confirmed of the original 12.
The Champions League executive committee will vote on whether to do away with the current group system - where 32 teams are split into eight pools of four - and replace it with one 36-team league.
Each team plays 10 matches on a seeded basis - four more than in the current group phase - in a so-called 'Swiss model', previously described as "ideal" by Agnelli in part because it allows the flexibility to add even more matches in the future.
The new format takes the Champions League from 125 to 225 matches, which would create a huge headache for domestic schedulers. EFL chairman Rick Parry says it would be a "major threat" to the Carabao Cup and the Football Association also wrote to UEFA to express its concerns.
The encroachment of the competition into January - usually kept free for domestic club football - is understood to be another concern for the Premier League.
The league's top eight would qualify automatically for the last-16 knockout stage, with the teams finishing ninth and 24th playing off for the remaining eight places.
The allocation of two of the extra four places to sides based on previous European performance has also proved controversial.