The Super League saga continues to rumble. On Wednesday, ESPN reported that UEFA was ready to initiate disciplinary proceedings against clubs that have not officially withdrawn from the Super League, which could result in a ban on European competitions for a maximum of two years.
On Friday evening, UEFA released a statement announcing “reintegration measures” for nine of the twelve clubs involved in the Super League (including Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea), which, among other things, agreed to officially abandon and commit to the project UEFA competitions like the Champions League.
The next morning, the three clubs excluded from the deal – Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid – issued their own joint statement complaining about “pressure, threats and third party crimes” and reiterating their reasons for the Super League launching in first and foremost, insisting that court rulings are already in place preventing UEFA and FIFA from taking immediate disciplinary action against them.
It’s a messy situation so here is an unboxing question and answer.
Q: Why did UEFA and the nine clubs agree to these measures?
A: UEFA obviously wants the clubs to play in the Champions League because they generate a large part of the revenue for the organization. And that’s important because UEFA distributes more than 90% of its revenue to clubs, member associations and other stakeholders. It’s an elected body, and if for some reason it can’t deliver its resources to its stakeholders, its leaders don’t do their job … and can be voted out of office.
At the same time, UEFA couldn’t just welcome the clubs as if nothing had happened and there was a risk that they would be in the same position in a year or two. It was important that a firm commitment was made and this agreement provides for a € 100 million fine for clubs trying to “play” in an “unauthorized competition” such as a future Super League.
As a “gesture of goodwill”, the nine clubs will contribute a total of € 15 million (US $ 18.2 million) to youth and grassroots projects and will be fined 5% of what they earn from UEFA club competition for one season . It’s hard to say how much that will be and it will vary from club to club as it depends on the performance and size of the market, but it could be anywhere between € 1m and € 8m. That should amount to a total of 30 million euros, which will also be redistributed.
Q: OK, on average it costs each of the “rebel” clubs maybe 3 to 4 million euros … that doesn’t sound like a lot. Is that why they accepted the deal?
A: I think so. Right now, these clubs are financially injured because of the COVID-19 pandemic and there was little point in UEFA trying to squeeze them further. Even that € 100m fine is more for the show because if they just popped up and stopped I’m not sure how legally enforceable it would be. However, it’s important for the clubs to be back, especially the six Premier League clubs, as the reactions from their fans have been very strong. Now you can go on.
– Marcotti, Ogden: Super League Fallout: UEFA, Champions League reform again?
– Olley: Premier League after the collapse of the Super League: Big Six facing legal problems?
– Lowe: How Spain reacted to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico
Question: “As of Wednesday you reported that only seven clubs – the six English and Atletico Madrid – had approved the deal.” What has changed for the other two, Milan and Inter? Was it the risk of a ban on European competition?
A: They felt, like the three holdouts still, they were legally on pretty solid ground. I just think the screws turned them on. One person I spoke to described it like those cop films in which they separate the suspects, put them in different rooms and try to get them to confess and turn on their friends by telling them the other is Suspects are about to testify against them.
These two clubs were under pressure not only from UEFA but also from the other seven clubs who asked them to accept the deal. Especially since it is likely that UEFA would only offer the deal if at least nine clubs accepted it. This would mean that the competition would be dissolved on the basis of the Super League’s own statutes. Remember, these clubs exist in the same ecosystem: they do business together; They are interdependent.
Q: Why did it take you so long?
A: At first they believed in the project. And as long as it still existed in some form, they still had leverage over UEFA to get a better deal on revenue sharing and access to European competitions. These are two problems that, despite UEFA’s approval of the reform of the Champions League with the Swiss model, will remain unsolved from 2024.
In addition, when the 12 clubs formed the Super League, they agreed to pay a massive fine (up to 150 million euros) if they were eliminated in the first five years. That would then be redistributed to the remaining clubs.
Question: “Wait a minute … so nine clubs were eliminated.” Each is contractually obliged to pay 150 million euros to the remaining three clubs. Does that mean Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona can split € 1.35 billion among them?
A: Theoretically yes. They say so in the contract. We’re talking about lawyers here, however, and as we’ve seen from litigation over the years, no one can guess what would actually happen if they sue. Plus, it’s hard to see Europe’s mega-clubs suddenly suing each other. In the long term, they all have to work together. Not to mention that clubs (and associations) cannot sue each other under FIFA rules. You must pursue matters through sports courts, under penalty of suspension. So I’m not sure if this massive punishment means anything unless the three remaining clubs aim to become perennial parias.
Q: What about Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid? What is happening to them now? Are they banned?
A: You are obviously in an even weaker position now. UEFA can initiate disciplinary proceedings and the maximum penalty is two years. But they really don’t believe they will be banned or even disciplined, mainly for two reasons.
Firstly, there is a decision by a court in Madrid preventing UEFA from punishing them until the case of whether a Super League is legal is heard. It’s basically an injunction and it could take ages to resolve. Until it is resolved, the climate at UEFA could be very different. Or the Super League clubs could win … who knows?
After the debacle in the European Super League, Gab Marcotti recommends punishing individual executives and not the clubs.
Q: But this is a dish in Madrid. UEFA is in Switzerland, what does it matter?
A: Without going too far into the weeds, this has to do with European law and where UEFA does business. The injunction can be enforced on the basis of the Lugano Treaty. It would despise UEFA and, according to the clubs, make the members of their disciplinary committee personally liable.
Q: OK what is the other reason?
A: UEFA would most likely initiate disciplinary proceedings arguing that the three remaining Super League clubs have violated Article 51, which states that clubs cannot “form alliances” without UEFA’s permission. Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid claim that they first asked for permission and recognition when they created the Super League.
Q: That’s a little sneaky. Didn’t they secretly plan this for years, agree every detail down to the format and the participants, and then go to UEFA as if it were a closed deal?
A: Yes already. But we’re talking about legal fine print here. And if UEFA were to take disciplinary action on top of the Madrid court’s injunction, it would have the option of taking them to the Lausanne Court of Arbitration for Sport. And as we’ve seen, UEFA’s record is not great there: this is essentially the “Supreme Court” for sporting justice, and these are the ones who lifted the Manchester City ban last summer. Still, it was important to hear about the three clubs because apart from the sprawling television appearances of Madrid President Florentino Perez, they never made their case.
Q: what do you mean?
A: We have never yet learned why they felt a Super League was necessary and they have never pushed back the notion that this was a “breakaway” league. They said they would only ever do this with the approval of UEFA and FIFA – a bit like in basketball’s Euro League.
You said these are necessary structural reforms because the game is no longer sustainable. They said they were ready to make “solidarity payments” to the rest of the pyramid. You said women’s football is a priority. They argued they would implement cost controls and financial oversight to make the system sustainable. And they said it would be irresponsible not to do so because global interest in the sport “is not a given”.
Q: Do you have a point?
A: While I agree Global interest cannot be taken for granted. I would also like to point out that European football revenues have doubled in the ten years before the pandemic. So it’s pretty good. Likewise, it is by no means guaranteed that their format would have increased interest on a broad front: they certainly have not provided any proof of this. And if the women’s game and solidarity payments were such a priority, why didn’t they provide a minimum of detail in their original press release? (You may recall, it was simply said that “in due course” a women’s league would be formed.)
In terms of cost control, no one is lost that three of the clubs involved breached UEFA’s financial fair play system to discourage member clubs from spending more than they deserve. More specifically, these clubs held senior positions in the European Club Association; Juventus President Andrea Agnelli was on the board of UEFA; They spent six months negotiating – and then approving – the new Champions League format.
If all of these were massive priorities, why not? Then why not assemble your campaign?
Q: Yes, why not?
A: Whether you agree or disagree with the Super League, there is no question that the way the clubs tried to bring it to life has been incredibly persistent and frankly incompetent. Even some of the Super League’s staunch supporters agree on that. You have basically misunderstood everything: the reaction of the fans, the media, UEFA and FIFA and maybe especially other Super League clubs. Maybe I’m cynical, but the fact that they would try to start this project comes as less of a surprise to me than the extremely incompetent way they did it.
Q: what happens next?
A: UEFA reserves the right to “take any action it deems appropriate against Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid”. If it goes the disciplinary route, I would imagine that it will be associated with bureaucracy and legal proceedings for a long time. My guess is that some kind of facial rescue compromise will ultimately be reached.
As for the three clubs that are trying to enforce the clause and demand € 150 million from those who left, I am skeptical. It might be different if they were owned by private investors who just want to make money and play the long game, even if that means harming the club. But Barcelona and Real Madrid are run by associations of fans. Juventus has been part of the Agnelli family for more than a century. I can’t see them ruining everything in an unlikely hunt for cash, even half a billion each.
Ultimately, it’s about money and overspending, just as a pandemic hit. You can fix it with money. And in that regard, you shouldn’t overlook the possibility that FIFA may show up and possibly expand its Club World Cup (the 24-team World Cup-style tournament that club teams are going to start this summer but postponed due to became COVID), in terms of participants and frequency.