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Botched Breakaway American-Style European Super League Was Reportedly Plotted in Secret for Years

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When twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs, including AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, and Barcelona, officially announced the establishment of a new European club football tournament, called the Super League, on 18 April, the initiative immediately drew a backlash from both FIFA and UEFA.

Amid the controversy surrounding the European Super League, leaked documents reveal an originally conceived plan for an American-style “closed” structure, similar to that of the leading US sports leagues, reported The Times.

Like in American football and basketball leagues, in line with the proposals, teams would not be relegated to an inferior rank for performing poorly, and thus guaranteed a lucrative income. Clubs would ostensibly be on course to earn mammoth profits from revenue-sharing agreements.

According to the report, there were plans to cap salary payments, with the cap for players set at 55 percent of the income generated by the club.

Typically, European clubs allocate salaries an estimated 70-80 percent.

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

The full release from The Super League ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/ai8fK7wEdB

— Front Office Sports (@FOS) April 19, 2021

​The bombshell announcement on Sunday to break away from the established soccer order in favour of a franchise-style Super League came from 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs – AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur.

​Albeit ultimately short-lived, the breakaway group’s move to create a rival competition to the UEFA Champions League triggered a swift backlash from not only from FIFA and UEFA, but the national football associations of European states and even political leaders such as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who on Sunday evening tweeted his opposition.

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. (1/2)

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 18, 2021

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach also criticised the idea, cautioning against sacrificing the social mission of sports on the altar of profit.

After it lost the backing of all six Premier League clubs, on Tuesday night the Super League was put on pause to “reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project”.

#SuperLeague has been officially SUSPENDED 🚨🚫

– English clubs have left (Chelsea too, official soon).

– Inter have left, AC Milan are set to leave.

– Juventus and Spanish clubs: waiting for official position.

The whole #SuperLeague has been stopped to “reshape the project”.

— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) April 20, 2021

‘Selling their Souls to Showbiz’

The report in The Times underscores the fact that out of the 12 European clubs who signed up for the European Super League deal, four – Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and AC Milan – have American owners.

Meanwhile, photographs dated to 2016 published by The Sun reveal that five executives from the Premier League clubs who originally signed up to the new Super League ostensibly met years ago to thrash out the original version of the plan, backed by billionaire Stephen Ross.

© REUTERS / Denis Balibouse

A logo is pictured on a backdrop before a news conference after an UEFA Executive Board meeting in Nyon, Switzerland, December 9, 2016

Ross, who according to Forbes magazine had a net worth of $7.6 billion in 2020, is the main owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL team.

Present at the 2016 meeting were Ed Woodward, the Manchester United executive vice-chairman who has since resigned over the backlash, Bruce Buck, Chelsea’s chairman, Ivan Gazidis, then Arsenal’s chief executive, Manchester City official Ferran Soriano, and Ian Ayre, then Liverpool’s chief executive.

“They do not want other clubs threatening their European places, especially in the Champions League. You get the feeling they would like the Premier League to become La Liga, only with six super-dominant clubs instead of two,” a Premier League source was quoted as saying by The Sun at the time, when the outlet broke the story.

The source added:

“If they went down this road, they would be selling their souls to showbiz. It’s more of a threat than anything, but it’s a pretty hollow one. You hope that Uefa and the Premier League see through it. But these clubs hope it will give them leverage in negotiations about the future of the Champions League and the Premier League.”

Woodward was later caught on camera with John Henry, the Liverpool owner, Gazidis and two of Manchester United’s owners, Avram and Joel Glazer, at a New York restaurant in 2017.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., where Woodward was employed as an accountant and investment banker, was announced earlier as bankrolling the project, agreeing to underwrite an initial 3.5-billion-euro investment into the top-tier Super League.

The ESL was announced on Sunday as including 20 teams — the 15 founders, and another 5 teams that would qualify for the tournament every year in accordance with their achievements in the prior season.

The official ESL statement claimed it sought to help clubs overcome the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic by showing the importance of what was characterised as a “strategic vision and a sustainable commercial approach” to maintain the European football system.

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