Football

Macron hails PSG for staying away from breakaway European Super League

Owners of a dozen European clubs say they want to play in a new tournament called the European Super League.
Owners of a dozen European clubs say they want to play in a new tournament called the European Super League. FRANCK FIFE AFP

French president Emmanuel Macron has saluted French champions Paris Saint-Germain for steering clear of plans for a controversial new European Super League (ESL).

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Six English clubs and three teams from Italy and Spain say they want to start the new competition from August.

President Macron said he was pleased that PSG - who are second in Ligue 1 - were not among the ESL’s 12 founding members.

A French government spokesman told RMC radio station: “The president welcomes the position of French clubs to refuse to participate in a project that threatens the principle of solidarity and sporting merit.”

British prime minister Boris Johnson also hit out at the English teams in the proposed revamp.

He said a super league would strike at the heart of the domestic game.

Support

Oliver Dowden, whose remit as British culture secretary covers sport, said moves for a super league should have the backing of the supporters.

“With many fans, the government is concerned that this plan could create a closed shop at the very top of our national game,” he said.

“Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that undermines this is deeply troubling and damaging for football.”

A super league has been mooted for at least three decades.

Reform

The European Cup - organised from the mid 1950s by European football’s ruling body Uefa - has been revamped since 1992 from a knock-out competition only for champions of the European leagues into a tournament for the top three or four teams from those championships.

Since Porto in 2004, only teams from Italy, Germany, Spain and England have lifted the Champions League crown.

“Twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs have come together to announce they have agreed to establish a new mid-week competition, the Super League, governed by its founding clubs,” an ESL statement said. 

“AC Milan, Arsenal FC, Atlético de Madrid, Chelsea FC, FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano, Juventus FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid CF and Tottenham Hotspur have all joined as founding clubs. 

“It is anticipated that a further three clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season, which is intended to commence as soon as practicable,” the statement said.

Structure

Outfits such as Real Madrid and Barcelona from Spain as well as Bayern Munich from Germany have been mainstays of the Champions League.

Seasons have been deemed failures when clubs such as Liverpool or Inter Milan have failed to gain places in the competition.

Details for the new competition among self-styled giants emerged as Uefa was expected to announce plans for an expanded and restructured Champions League.

If the ESL plan is realised, it would be one of the biggest shifts in football and threaten the appeal of the Champions League. The tournament’s lustre would be diminished with the absence of leading European outfits but it could continue.

Warning

Uefa - which is currently holding a summit - have denounced the proposal along with the world game’s ruling body Fifa.

“In our view, and in accordance with our statutes, any football competition, whether national, regional or global, should always reflect the core principles of solidarity, inclusivity, integrity and equitable financial redistribution,” said a Fifa statement.

“Against this background, Fifa can only express its disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures and not respecting the aforementioned principles.”

Uefa and Fifa have both said players participating in the ESL competition could be banned from their tournaments such as the Nations League, the European Championships and the World Cup.

The ESL say the are prepared to go to court to prevent the organisations from carrying out such sanctions.

“The ESL added: “The founding clubs look forward to holding discussions with Uefa and Fifa to work together in partnership to deliver the best outcomes for the new league and for football as a whole.”

Format

According to the ESL, the new format will involve midweek fixtures, with all participating clubs continuing to compete in their respective national leagues.

From August, the 20 ESL clubs would be in two groups of 10 and play home and away fixtures. The top three in each group automatically qualify for the quarter-finals.

Teams finishing fourth and fifth will then compete in a two-legged play-off for the remaining positions in the last eight.

A two-leg knockout format will be used to reach the final at the end of May, which will be staged as a single fixture at a neutral venue. 

"As soon as practicable after the start of the men’s competition, a corresponding women’s league will also be launched, helping to advance and develop the women’s game,” the ESL added.

Drivers

The drive for the breakaway league has been led by the Real Madrid president, Florentino Pérez – who will be chairman of the new organisation – along with Joel Glazer of Manchester United and Andrea Agnelli of Juventus, who will both be vice-chairmen.

“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” said Pérez.

“Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”

Agnelli added: “Our 12 founder clubs represent billions of fans across the globe and 99 European trophies.

"We have come together at this critical moment, enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity, and giving fans and amateur players a regular flow of headline fixtures that will feed their passion for the game while providing them with engaging role models.”

The former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said he was unconvinced.

Anger

The 79-year-old told Reuters news agency that a super league would be a move away from 70 years of European club football.

“Fans all over love the Champions League competition as it is,” he said. “In my time at United, we played in four Champions League finals and they were always the most special of nights.”

Gary Neville, who played under Ferguson, told Sky Sports: “I am disgusted by Manchester United and Liverpool the most. Liverpool, they pretend with: 'You’ll Never Walk Alone' that they are the people’s club ... the fans’ club.

"Manchester United – 100 years, born out of workers. And they are breaking away into a league without competition, that they can’t be relegated from?

“It is an absolute disgrace. Honestly, we have to wrestle back power in this country from the clubs at the top of this league, and that includes my club.”

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