Will a 'Super League' blow up global soccer? Here's what we know after bombshell announcement

Henry Bushnell
·9 min read
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Twelve top European soccer clubs on Sunday announced that they have "agreed to establish" the "Super League," a new elite competition that could blow up the professional structure of the world's most popular sport.

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The league has not been officially established, nor is its formation inevitable. It has already met intense opposition from fans, soccer executives and even politicians. But the announcement could represent the most significant shake-up in the sport's modern history.

Here's what we know about the Super League, the ramifications and what comes next.

Who's in the new league?

Twelve clubs have already signed on:

  • Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham from England

  • Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid from Spain

  • Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan from Italy

In the statement, those 12 clubs said that "it is anticipated that a further three clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season." Those "anticipated" clubs are reportedly Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortumand and Paris Saint-Germain, though all three have so far resisted the plan. In fact, Bayern and Dortmund have publicly opposed it.

Five other clubs would then join those 15 "founders" on a rotating, annual basis, to form a 20-team league each season. The 15 founders would be immune to relegation. The rest would be relegated and promoted based on sporting merit — though it's unclear how they'd be selected, or if they'd even be allowed to participate.

When would the league start?

The clubs want to start "as soon as practicable," which reportedly could be in 2022.

And they said that, "as soon as practicable after the start of the men's competition," they intend to start a "corresponding women's league." (That was the only mention of women's soccer in the announcement. The founders are almost exclusively focused on the men's game.)

What's the Super League format?

The founders' proposal is:

  • Split the 20-team league into two groups of 10.

  • Teams play two games — one home, one away — against each group opponent, for an 18-game group stage in total.

  • The top three teams in each group advance to the knockout stages, beginning with quarterfinals. The last quarterfinal spots would go to the winners of a playoff between the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in each group.

The games would be played on weekday nights, essentially replacing the current Champions League, and allowing clubs to remain in their domestic leagues — the Premier League, Serie A, etc.

But that, for several reasons, seems unfeasible.

Liverpool and Real Madrid would be two founding members of the Super League. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Liverpool and Real Madrid would be two founding members of the Super League. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Would clubs leave the Premier League, La Liga, etc.?

In their announcement, the clubs said they would "continue to compete in their respective national leagues."

But UEFA, the European soccer governing body, in concert with soccer governing bodies and top leagues in England, Italy and Spain, said in a statement Sunday that "the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level."

English Premier League CEO Richard Masters wrote in a letter to clubs that they'd need EPL permission to join the Super League, and "I cannot envisage any scenario where such permission would be granted."

So if this Super League is going to happen, it's going to replace both the Champions League and the domestic leagues. It'd have to be a true breakaway.

Why are the clubs forming the Super League?

They want, and will get, more money — both in the short term and long term.

JP Morgan, an American investment bank, is helping fund the league, and contributing to nine-figure "grants" to each of the founding members — essentially an advance on future revenues.

A Super League would also allow the clubs to share revenue more exclusively among themselves, rather than with a broader pool of European clubs. UEFA, which exists to grow and govern the game throughout Europe, distributes some of the money it earns from Champions League broadcast rights, for example, to the most successful clubs; but some of it also goes to smaller clubs and national associations across the continent. That money helps sustain the sport at grassroots and pro levels in dozens of countries.

The Super League clubs, essentially, want to keep more of that money for themselves. For decades, in each round of negotiations over Champions League revenue sharing, UEFA has given them larger shares to appease them. The clubs have used the threat of a Super League as leverage. They've long argued that they are the reason millions of people watch the Champions League, and they believe those same people would watch them in a breakaway league — for which they'd be able to fetch their own lucrative TV contract. And they wouldn't have to share as much of that money with others.

Critics argue that their greed would decimate European soccer at almost every level below the Super League, and would have downstream effects that harm the sport. The Super League will enrich the 1% at the expense of the 99%.

[More: The Super League plan is repulsive. But a version of it could be great]

Are FIFA and UEFA on board with the plan?

No. They hate it. In fact, almost every soccer powerbroker outside those 12 elite clubs has condemned the plan. The president of UEFA, Aleksander Ceferin, is furious, and on Monday blasted leaders of the Super League clubs. Others are "apoplectic" too. La Liga president Javier Tebas ripped the Super League schemers, saying they were "intoxicated with selfishness and a lack of solidarity."

After the announcement, FIFA released a statement saying it "stands firm in favor of solidarity in football and an equitable [revenue] redistribution model." It expressed its "disapproval to a 'closed European breakaway league' outside of the international football structures." (Its statement, though, wasn't as strong as others'.)

What could FIFA or UEFA do to stop the Super League?

UEFA, in a statement released Sunday, said that it and its member leagues and national governing bodies "will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening."

In other words, this is going to get messy.

UEFA's and FIFA's most powerful leverage point is that they control the world's most important international soccer competitions, the World Cup and the Euros. FIFA has said that it would not recognize a breakaway Super League, and that "any club or player involved in such a competition would, as a consequence, not be allowed to participate in any competition organized by FIFA or their respective confederation" — meaning the World Cup, the Euros, Copa America, and so on. Ceferin, the UEFA president, reiterated that stance Monday.

In other words, any club that joins a Super League would be forcing its players to leave their national teams, and to potentially miss out on the biggest sporting event on the planet. Or at least that's the threat.

Would FIFA really bar Super League players from the World Cup?

It's unclear, however, whether FIFA would actually follow through on that threat. The threat itself is designed to dissuade clubs from forming a Super League. But if they form it anyway, some elite players — perhaps most — would choose the higher salaries and prestige of the Super League over one grand tournament every four years.

Would Kylian Mbappe, for example, really go spend his entire career at Lyon or Lille, and deflate his earning potential considerably, just so he can play at three or four more World Cups over the next two decades?

And if he and others opted for the Super League, would FIFA really tell soccer's biggest stars that they aren't allowed to play at FIFA's biggest tournament (and FIFA's biggest moneymaker)?

The bottom line: It's very unlikely that, come 2026, the world's top soccer players aren't at the World Cup. The question is whether that's because FIFA cedes to the Super League, or because the Super League collapses under immense pushback.

What else could stop the Super League?

If the Super League founders press forward with their plan, they will meet countless legal challenges. In a letter to FIFA and UEFA on Sunday, they said they've already filed motions in court to protect themselves.

They'll also meet opposition from governments, which wield substantial power. United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted Sunday that "plans for a European Super League would be very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action." He promised Monday to "look at everything we can do" to prevent the league.

Margaritis Schinas, the European Union Vice President, also tweeted a statement opposing the Super League.

"We must defend a values-driven European model of sport based on diversity and inclusion," he wrote. "There is no scope for reserving it for the few rich and powerful clubs who want to severe [sic] links with everything associations stand for: national leagues, promotion and relegation and support to grassroots amateur football."

There is no legal precedent for this type of breakaway, however, so it's unclear what authority governments might have to block it.

So is a Super League definitely happening?

The short answer is no — not definitely. Significant obstacles remain. Blowback has already been fierce. In addition to governments and soccer powerbrokers, players, coaches, media and even fans could organize significant action in opposition. Some already have.

Sunday's announcement will likely lead to heated negotiations. It wasn't quite a point of no return. The 12 clubs haven't formally left the Champions League. Heck, a few of them are slated to participate in the semifinals next week. They could still sit down with UEFA and other clubs to hash out an agreement that keeps them in their current leagues.

In their statement, they said they "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."

Or, Sunday could turn out to be the most momentous day in 21st century soccer. It could be the day the sport's current model ruptured. The Super League, or some version of it, could materialize.

Even if it doesn't immediately, this is the loudest, most seismic, most legitimate step toward a breakaway European league ever. The coming days, weeks and months will be frantic. And they'll chart soccer's future.

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