Could a European super league actually happen? Three experts discuss the likelihood of Arsenal, Manchester United and co breaking away from Uefa

 
Joe Hall
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UEFA Champions League Play-Off Draw
Could Uefa's Champions League be shirked in favour of an exclusive Super League for the big clubs? (Source: Getty)

Could a European super league actually happen? Are the Premier League's biggest clubs plotting to break away from the Champions League?

Those are the questions being asked by football fans after representatives from Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool were photographed emerging from a meeting at the Dorchester Hotel in London on Tuesday.

Some of the clubs have moved quickly to distance themselves from suggestions they were plotting a breakaway tournament; Arsenal and Manchester United indicated the meeting with Relevant Sports was to discuss the pre-season International Champions Cup, which the New York firm organises.

Yet the rumours of Europe's biggest teams forming a super league look unlikely to dissipate, following recent suggestions that the Champions League should reserve a permanent wildcard place for big teams who failed to qualify.

We asked three experts whether or not it could happen.

Read more: Premier League chiefs discuss Champions League breakaway

James Powell, head of the Sports Group at Cantor Fitzgerald and former commercial director at Everton

"Any European super league would represent a massive revenue opportunity, and as any good senior management in a football club will do, they will want to explore options.

"With everything that's happening at Uefa and Fifa, and with China throwing money around, there’s volatility in the market and so you need to try and deal with that volatility and protect the position of your football club.

"If somebody makes a serious suggestion then you have to at least explore the idea because if it increases the revenue for the football club – for the business – then it would almost be negligent not to listen.

"The idea of a European super league has been going around for 18 to 20 years in one form or another. It’s one of the reasons why they changed the European Cup format to the Champions League in 1993, to just try and make it a little bit more competitive and increase the money. It could be argued that these things have a shelf life.

"Clubs are very well run these days at the top level and they may just be trying to see if there’s an alternative here that could be of interest. It [a European super league] has been talked about for some time in various forms and it will always be talked about. Once you bring one system in there will be people talking about how that system might change in the future. And we may have just reached that point, although we don't know for sure."

Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at the University of Salford

"If you go back 10 years, the super league was really on the agenda but was pushed onto the backburner when Michel Platini was elected president of Uefa. He adopted a very conciliatory tone which led to the dissolution of the G-14 [a small group representing Europe's biggest clubs] and resulted in the formation of the European Club Association (ECA). Platini was very good at quelling the uprising and keeping the bigger clubs quiet.

"Now, with Platini banned from football for six years, there’s a great deal of uncertainty around Uefa. We don’t know who the president is going to be, what their view is going to be on the Champions League or allocation of TV money.

"The Premier League clubs are putting pressure on Uefa and the new president, whoever that may be, to account for the fact that in economic and commercial terms they are about to become even more powerful. And we’re seeing the ECA playing a similar pressing game with the suggestion that past winners are given automatic wildcards into the tournament, even if they don’t qualify.

"For an incoming Uefa president, this is going to be an ongoing problem. There is an air of inevitability about all of this. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and so it requires a very astute and very powerful figure who can reconcile the disparate needs of the smaller associations with the bigger associations.

"The problem is the bigger associations have now become so powerful both politically and economically that I think the threat of breakaway is now tangible. This is not 10 years ago, pre-Platini. The top end of the industry, particularly the Premier League, has moved on dramatically and they are now in a position to spin out on their own and take advantage of a global opportunity."

Daniel Geey, lawyer and partner in the Sport Group at Sheridans

"The real question is whether there could be a type of breakaway league which clubs would sign up to outside of the Uefa family. I’m not necessarily convinced that’s the case, or will happen.

"Just as in any other type of sport or any other type of sector, everyone’s looking for opportunities to increase their earning power, revenues, certainty of participation of competition. So I’m not entirely surprised, but if certain Premier League clubs wanted to hold a private meeting, they certainly wouldn’t all be coming out at the same time of the Dorchester Hotel and able to be photographed.

"I think this is likely to be part of a negotiation strategy to extract a better deal from Uefa or to think about how the structure of the next Champions League negotiations occurs.

"But if such a breakaway were to occur, there would likely be Fifa challenges, Uefa could possibly argue what they’re doing is illegal, and the clubs would have to take significant risk in effectively breaking away from Uefa’s licenced structure.

"There are also bigger questions around promotion and relegation and whether a super league would remain a closed shop. That brings with it much more controversy because the whole idea, at least for European football as opposed to the US side, is the sporting integrity in the sense of performance on the pitch effectively guarantees sporting success and commercial opportunity through greater prize money.

"There would be a lot of discontent should the promotion and relegation-based system that has always applied in European sport no longer apply to some of the wealthiest clubs.

"The nuclear possibility would be for Uefa or the FA to threaten clubs with expulsion. But I’m not necessarily so sure that's what they would want to be saying or doing. It would be very much a last resort if a breakaway league ever actually came to fruition."

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