There is extraordinary news this morning courtesy of the Sunday Times (£) and the New York Times. Tottenham Hotspur is one of at least five English clubs that has agreed in principle to join a potential new European Super League, along with Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool, on the eve of UEFA’s announcement of a revamped Champions League.
According to the New York Times, “at least 12” European clubs in total have signaled their support for a breakaway super league, in direct opposition to UEFA’s new revamped “Swiss model” Champions League, which the European football organization was set to formally announce tomorrow. The Sunday Times states Manchester City is reportedly the only English member of the so-called Big Six that has not signed up for the super league, but the New York Times says that they have in fact joined the others. Other European clubs include Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, and Juventus, but notably not Bayern Munich nor Dortmund.
UEFA’s new “Swiss model” for the Champions League is to change the format from a group of 32 clubs organized in eight groups of four to a group of 36 clubs in one large table. The clubs would be ranked by club coefficient and assigned a group of 10 matches against different opponents, five home and five away, with the top eight in the table advancing to the knock-out rounds.
Opponents of the Swiss model say argue that there is inequality because clubs don’t play every team in the competition and because club coefficient is an outdated way of measuring a team’s strength, favoring the historically bigger clubs with longer history in the competition. The expansion of the size of the competition also means more matches for clubs who are already struggling with fixture congestion. However, it is also expected to be much more lucrative, again benefitting the top clubs in the competition.
There has been the threat of a Super League hanging like an anvil over European football for decades now, and with UEFA ready to signal their new format the breakaway clubs have decided now is the time to make their move. What isn’t yet clear is whether this is an earnest attempt to break away from UEFA’s top European competition or whether this is an attempt to wring more concessions to the top clubs in the revamped Champions League.
Either way, it’s a cynical ploy. The Champions League has always been a cash cow, even for clubs who crash out in the group stages, and more so for those who make it to the knock-out rounds and have a chance to win the whole things. It’s the reason why so much emphasis is placed in the Premier League in finishing top four — consistent Champions League qualification is a huge financial boost to any club that achieves it, and the clubs, including Spurs, who have signed up for the breakaway league have decided that it doesn’t favor them enough.
The Sunday Times states that the breakaway league includes but is not limited to the following proposals:
- 15 permanent “founder clubs” (16 according to the NYT) and five (or four) additional clubs that would qualify for the competition each year based on results. Founding clubs would be offered up to 350m euros to join
- The competition would be split into two groups of ten clubs, matches played mid-week, with the top four from each group progressing to the knock-out stages
- Participating clubs would remain with and continue to compete in their domestic leagues
- A TV revenue sharing system that heavily skews in favor of the founding clubs (32.5% gross shared between the 15 clubs, and another 32.5% split evenly between all competing clubs including the founding clubs)
- Include a shared £3.1b “infrastructure grant” for the permanent founding members that can be used to spend on infrastructure or “to replace lost stadium-related revenues due to COVID-19” (hello Tottenham)
- A net revenue cap of 55% that clubs can use to spend on wages and transfer fees
There have been threats made by both domestic and international football leagues in the past against clubs that would join a hypothetical breakaway league. FIFA has in the past threatened to ban players from super league clubs from the World Cup. Domestic leagues such as the Premier League had talked about expelling super league clubs from its federation as far back as 1998, though that threat now feels somewhat empty considering carrying through on that threat would result in the five (or six) richest and best clubs departing, leaving the Premier League as essentially a hollowed-out shell.
Tottenham’s inclusion in this exclusive group of potential European breakaways would’ve been considered unfathomable a decade ago and represents the huge strides the club has made to increase its revenue base and European football stature. However, Spurs’ decision to join in with the breakaway clubs is likely to result in huge resistance from a significant portion of its fanbase. The Super League has always proven to be wildly unpopular with football fans, and even today despite an increasing and cynical understanding of the importance of money with regards to future sporting success the idea of a closed or nearly closed breakaway league will provoke fierce opposition.
Again, we don’t know yet if this is a serious proposal or a means to get more favorable financial concessions for the Champions League. It’s likely that will be clarified soon. You can understand however why Spurs would be interested in joining such a breakaway league — it’s an absolute cash cow. The financial boon would be more than enough to help with the financial losses from COVID-19 and would cement Tottenham’s place as a permanent member at the European football elite table, something chairman Daniel Levy has been working towards for the better part of two decades.
We’ll find out soon what this means and just how much European football is going to change going forward.
EDIT: The Premier League has released a statement condemning the breakaway super league proposal.