MONTREUX (Switzer­land): Plans for a breakaway Super League announced by 12 of European football’s most powerful clubs plunged European football into an unprecedented crisis on Monday, with threats of legal action and possible bans for players, as UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin called it a “spit in the face” for supporters.

Ceferin showed his sense of anger and betrayal by the leaders of some wealthy European clubs as he spoke of snakes, and wished UEFA could ban Super League clubs and players as soon as possible from all of its competitions including this year’s European Championship and next year’s World Cup.

Whether UEFA’s lawyers will advise that with the Champions League and Europa League semi-finals starting next week, and Euro 2020 kicking off in June is unclear.

Ceferin spoke following a UEFA executive committee meeting and said some legal assessments will begin Tuesday morning. The meeting was held only hours after the English, Italian and Spanish clubs announced the Super League project that threatens to split the historic structure of European football.

“They will not be able to represent their national teams at any matches,” Ceferin earlier warned. “UEFA and the footballing world stand united against the disgraceful self-serving proposal we have seen in last 24 hours from a select few clubs in Europe that are fueled purely by greed above all else.”

UEFAs 55 member federations are gathering for an annual meeting on Tuesday, including 24 nations that are playing in Euro 2020.

Three of the 12 rebels — Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid — are scheduled to play in the Champions League semi-finals next week. Two more, Manchester United and Arsenal, are in the Europa League semi-finals.

Earlier, the 12 planning to start the breakaway Super League told the leaders of FIFA and UEFA that they have begun legal action aimed at fending off threats to block the competition.

The letter was sent by the group to Ceferin and FIFA President Gianni Infantino saying the Super League has already been underwritten by funding of 4 billion euros ($5.5 billion) from American bank JP Morgan Chase.

Currently, teams have to qualify each year for the Champions League through their domestic leagues, but the Super League would lock in 15 places every season for the founding members. The seismic move to shake up the sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and United, who also run franchises in closed US leagues a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.

UEFA warned the Super League clubs, including Barcelona and Juventus, that legal action would be taken against them and said they also would be barred from existing domestic competitions like the Spanish league and the Premier League.

“We are concerned that FIFA and UEFA may respond to this invitation letter by seeking to take punitive measures to exclude any participating club or player from their respective competitions,” the Super League clubs wrote to Infantino and Ceferin in a letter.

“Your formal statement does, however, compel us to take protective steps to secure ourselves against such an adverse reaction, which would not only jeopardize the funding commitment under the Grant but, significantly, would be unlawful. For this reason, SLCo (Super League Company) has filed a motion before the relevant courts in order to ensure the seamless establishment and operation of the Competition in accordance with applicable laws.”

The courts were not named.

“It is our duty, as SLCos board members, to ensure that all reasonable actions available to protect the interests of the Competition and our stakeholders are duly taken, given the irreparable damage that would be suffered if, for any reason, we were deprived of the opportunity to form promptly the Competition and distribute the proceeds of the Grant,” the Super League letter continued.

The Super League intends to launch a 20-team competition with 15 founding members but only 12 have currently signed up. The others are Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur from England, Atletico Madrid from Spain, and AC Milan and Inter Milan from Italy.

Monday’s breakaway announcement came just hours before UEFA planned to announce a new format for the Champions League which had been conceived to placate the continent’s biggest clubs and stave off the breakaway threat.

UEFA is pressing ahead with the new format from 2024 onwards, which will see the number of clubs involved increase from 32 to 36.

Now, the same officials who backed the plans have decided to go it alone while claiming the existing competitions could remain despite losing their most successful teams, including record 13-time European champion Real Madrid and six-time winners Liverpool.

The agreement was negotiated with the 246-member European Club Association. The ECA’s leader, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, resigned from the UEFA executive committee overnight.

“He is probably biggest disappointment of all,” Ceferin said of Agnelli, whose young daughter he became godfather to. “I have never seen a person that would lie so many times and so persistently as he did. Now I know who is who. Who is honest. Who loves football.”

In their letter to the FIFA and UEFA presidents, the Super League clubs said their competition could also play alongside domestic leagues and cups.

“We do not seek to replace the UEFAs Champions League or the Europa League,” they said, “but to compete with and exist alongside those tournaments.”

The 15 eventual founders will be guaranteed to play each year in a competition intended to take place in midweek, allowing clubs in theory to continue participating in domestic leagues.

Another five places will be available “based on achievements in the prior season”.

The absence of French and German teams from the founding members is notable, despite Bayern Munich and Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain reaching last season’s Champions League final.

The breakaway has been heavily criticised by football authorities, fan organisations and politicians across Europe who say it entrenches the wealth and power of a small elite of clubs.

The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust — whose club on Monday separately announced the sacking of coach Jose Mourinho — called it a “betrayal”.

French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have also voiced concerns.

“We are going to look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed,” Johnson said in a pooled interview.

Under the plan, two groups of 10 will play each other home and away, with the top three qualifying for the quarter-finals. The fourth and fifth-placed teams would play off for the two remaining spots.

Then the competition would adopt the same two-leg knockout format used in the Champions League before a single-leg final in May.

World governing body FIFA expressed its “disapproval” and called on all parties “to engage in calm, constructive and balanced dialogue”.

The Premier League, the richest in Europe, issued a furious statement to say “the concept of a European Super League would destroy” the dream that any team could “climb to the top and play against the best”.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2021

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