European Super League: What happens now after new proposal announced?

Fans protesting the establishment of the breakaway European Super League

The European Super League is making headlines again.

It was initially launched 32 months ago but then dumped almost immediately by nine of its 12 founder members.

That followed widespread opposition which in England went as far as then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Royal Family through Football Association president Prince William.

But the concept has been given fresh impetus. BBC Sport’s Simon Stone assesses a seismic day for European football and looks at what may come next.

What happened on Thursday?

A ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg stated world and European governing bodies Fifa and Uefa had “abused a dominant position” by threatening the Super League clubs and their players with sanctions and exclusion from major competitions.

It also said rules that demand prior approval for “interclub football projects” were “unlawful” and that their exclusive control in negotiating commercial rights for competitions was restriction of trade.

The ECJ called Fifa and Uefa’s rules relating to the exploitation of media rights “harmful” to clubs, media companies and fans

Within hours, a new European Super League (ESL) proposal had been released.

It was major stuff, capturing attention in much the same way as the launch had done.

If anything, the reaction this time around has been more extensive and swifter.

Should Uefa be worried?

There are a couple of elements to this. Firstly, when they digested the initial release, Uefa officials were shocked.

However, when they started to read the detail within the case, it did not quite chime with the damning words on the ECJ press release.

Within the case, it seemed as though its status as Europe’s footballing powerhouse was being confirmed.

It also soon became apparent that some of the issues it has been accused of ignoring, specifically rules around authorisation for launching new competitions, have been dealt with since the initial Super League launch but it was the old details that were used by the ECJ in reaching its conclusions.

In short, Uefa felt it had nothing to beat itself up over. As Fifa president Gianni Infantino put it in his own statement: “Today’s judgement does not change anything, really.”

Except it had. The press release was music to the ears of A22, the group backing the Super League project and standing with Real Madrid and Barcelona, its two remaining members given Juventus had signalled their intention to quit.

And, unlike the initial ‘launch’, which was limited to one late night interview – in Spanish by Real president Florentino Perez – this time, A22, the management organisation brought in to sponsor and assist in the creation of the Super League, was on the front foot.

What will a new European Super League look like?

A statement from A22 was issued half an hour after the ECJ press release was sent out. In it, chief executive Bernd Reichart declared: “The Uefa monopoly is over. Football is free.”

Just over an hour after that came A22’s revamped Super League proposals. Sixty-four men’s teams split across three divisions, 32 women’s teams split across two. No clubs were mentioned but “guaranteed revenues” were promised, plus solidarity payments and a free state-of-the-art digital streaming platform.

Speaking to BBC Sport a couple of hours after that, Reichart was bullish about what had changed on the football landscape as far as A22 and their supporters were concerned.

“The ruling was pretty clear,” he said. “It talks about abuse of competition. There is little room for doubt. It is a clear ruling and a great day for football.”

Is the Champions League under threat?

At 13:00 GMT, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin fronted a news conference that also included European Club Association (ECA) chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who doubles as chairman of non-Super League Paris St-Germain. The pair are now established as the two most powerful football administrators in Europe.

Also on the Zoom call were representatives of leagues, players and fans. The counter-offensive was about to begin.

“What they are proposing is even more closed than the 2021 plan that was rejected by everyone,” said Ceferin.

“We will not try to stop them. They can create whatever they want. I hope they start their fantastic competition as soon as possible, with two clubs. I hope they know what they are doing but I am not so sure about that. Football is not for sale.”

Al-Khelaifi delivered a similar message.

“Who are A22?” he said. “Where have they come from? What is their history? What is their profile? We want to talk to serious people.

“There are two or three clubs, not with us today. We didn’t banish them. We have not threatened them. If they want to join us they are welcome. ECA have never limited ambition. That is the truth.

“We want to represent all the clubs. We all have the same interests. We have an eco-system. Nobody can touch it.

“If they want to do their own competition, it is fine. But the best club competition in the world is the Champions League. The brand has existed for years and years. You hear the music. We as stakeholders are sticking together to protect football.”

What have Premier League clubs said?

Manchester United were the first English club to confirm their support for the status quo, stating: “Our position has not changed. We remain fully committed to participation in Uefa competitions, and to positive cooperation with Uefa, the Premier League, and fellow clubs through the ECA on the continued development of the European game.”

In the space of 15 minutes later in the day, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea all released similar messages, adding to the numerous statements issued across Europe. Arsenal added their name to the list of clubs standing against the ESL on Friday.

Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, clubs it had been felt would sign up to the initial Super League project if it was launched successfully, backed away from the new plan. Inter Milan, one of the initial 12, did the same.

Other than Real Madrid and Barcelona, the clubs whose idea Super League was in the first place and have remained wedded to the concept when everyone else distanced themselves, no-one stepped forward to say they were up for joining.

On the face of it, A22, Real and Barca are not in a strong position.

Which clubs could join A22’s new competition?

However, in his chat with BBC Sport, Reichart was super positive.

“There will be promotion and relegation and there will be access from domestic competitions on sporting merit,” he said. “The access is connection to the domestic leagues is very important. We are open and democratic. We have to talk to clubs and leagues.”

Clubs with no history of recent success in their domestic leagues but have a season of a lifetime, think Leicester in 2016 and La Liga surprise package Girona currently, would not be excluded.

“Definitely, I would see a team who had such a great season as Girona accessing the Super League,” he said.

“The proposal has evolved. 99% of the criticism was against permanent membership. They [fans] perceived that as a betrayal of the sporting principle of football. We are now talking about an open, accessible, meritocratic league system in Europe, side-by-side with domestic leagues, played in midweek. If we convinced clubs and their fans, why wouldn’t they join?

“We want to put forward a proposal that is steadily convincing for clubs and fans. Already a lot of clubs have contributed to the proposal we shared. Now nobody will have to fear sanctions any more. They can contribute to a proposal I think is a really exciting and convincing one. If no clubs are convinced, no proposal will move forward, not even ours.”

What happens now?

Italian and French Governments seem to be mobilising to create legislation to stop any of their clubs joining. In England, a football regulator is part of the desire to clip the wings of the biggest clubs, backed up by legal powers if anyone starts to be seduced.

And that probably sums up the next steps.

If A22 comes forward with a plan and Uefa says no, it is impossible to imagine they won’t go straight back to the courts. If another body comes up with another plan and that is rejected, the same would probably apply.

If clubs were minded to join but felt they were stopped due to legal process, the lawyers would also get involved.

But there is also another path.

The powerful ECA is expanding. Its short-term aim is 500 members.

Since Super League collapsed, Al-Khelaifi has proved himself to be an astute politician. The Qatari has power – he comes from a country with significant wealth and growing connections – and has a vision.

Having worked closely with Uefa to create a joint commercial and marketing arm, the shift wouldn’t be too great for the ECA to get control of the game on behalf of Europe’s clubs, which is what Super League was supposed to be about.

It will probably be years before the full extent of ECJ’s ruling becomes established.

But no-one should be surprised if Al-Khelaifi – and numerous lawyers – turn out to be the big winners.

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