Between Sunday April 18 and Tuesday 20, football experienced an earthquake that shook all its estates. A fierce battle was unleashed for control of the millionaire business of European competitions. The plot that originated the earthquake was generated in the heights of the offices of 12 of the most important clubs in the world, led by Real Madrid and its president, Florentino Pérez, determined to create a Super League in which 15 clubs, the 12 founders plus three others that were due to join in June (supposedly Bayern Munich, Dortmund and PSG), would have a lifetime right to participate. Another five teams would have to accede through a second European competition, if UEFA accepted it, or an invitation letter. They were 48 frantic hours in which treason, lies, espionage and counterintelligence surfaced.
The breeding ground for the uproar was generated last Thursday, when the clubs that wanted to assault the monopoly on European and international competitions held by UEFA and FIFA learned that on Friday the European body had planned to approve a new format of the Champions League, which did not convince them, which increased the teams from 32 to 36, the matches from 125 to 227 and provided more confrontations between the big clubs in the first phase. This triggered Florentino Pérez and Andrea Agnelli, owner of Juventus and president of the European Club Association (ECA), to decide to accelerate the alternative plan that they had been working on for months to create the Super League. Pérez had already tried something similar in 2019, this time with the UEFA president, the Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin, as an ally. Now he is your staunch enemy.
A crucial event also occurred on Thursday. Javier Tebas, president of LaLiga, had a meal with Joan Laporta, recently elected president of Barcelona. Thebes, as this newspaper has learned, went to the meeting already advised of what was to come. The Barcelona leader confirmed all his suspicions. Thebes informed Ceferin that the split was real. From that moment, the two sides went into action. On the one hand, the rebellious clubs, eight at that time, were dedicated to recruiting up to 12. Miguel Ángel Gil, owner of Atlético de Madrid, received a call inviting him to participate in the groundbreaking project of which he was They released all the details and he was guaranteed that Bayern Munich, Dortmund and Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s PSG would enter in June. The foundations of the tournament were supported by the investor Key Capital, participated by two great friends of Florentino Pérez, the former president of Endesa Borja Prado, and the Franco-Moroccan businessman Anas Laghrari. According to sources familiar with the negotiations, the latter has been a faithful companion of Pérez in many of the previous meetings organized by Europe to add supporters to the cause.
The backing of the JP Morgan bank, committed to an initial loan of 3,525 million euros to be returned by the founders with the payment of 264 million over 23 years, and the intention to obtain 4,000 million euros from the sale of television rights , was another basis on which the agreement was based.
The same call that Miguel Ángel Gil received the owners of City, Tottenham and Chelsea. All under the pressure that they were before a train already in motion that would not stop before them anymore. According to sources familiar with the preparations for the Super League, until January Paris Saint-Germain had participated very actively in the exploratory work. However, by then he preferred to step aside. When the process to implement the structure of the Super League was accelerated, the leaders of the schism did not even make a last attempt to convince him. Atlético signed out of fear that the project would go ahead and that Sevilla could take their place. The three English clubs did too. With 12 teams the game could be played. UEFA, already alerted to the division, put its machinery in motion by approving the new Champions League on Friday in its Competitions Committee. The ECA clubs, including the rebels, had also endorsed the agreement, although it was subject, as they reported, to negotiating a society in which the exploitation rights of the competition were shared and to review the format. If these conditions were not met, they would not participate in the new Champions League.
By Saturday, the great betrayal that led to the most convulsive 48 hours in football history was already underway. Ceferin tried to contact Agnelli, whose godfather is one of his daughters. As revealed by the UEFA president, the Italian magnate denied the split on Saturday, but when he wanted him to write a statement denying it, he turned off the phone. Ceferin, who was traveling by car from Slovenia to Switzerland, no longer had any doubts that the rebellion had no turning back.
On Sunday, the 12 clubs leaked that around midnight they would announce the Super League. UEFA went ahead with a statement in which it reiterated its joint threat with FIFA to expel the entities and their players from all international competitions, but did not stop the announcement of the birth of the tournament. On Monday, at the offices of both organizations, a letter was received in which they were informed that the members of the Super League had filed a lawsuit and requested precautionary measures in the commercial court number 17 of Madrid against the monopoly they exercise over the competitions and before any attempt to stop the Super League. The Clifford Chance law firm, with a branch in Madrid, executed the legal movement on behalf of the European Superleague Company SL. The next step was, on Monday night, an interview with the president of the Super League, Florentino Pérez, who chose the set of The beach bar despite opinions against various advisers. Pérez’s intervention showing himself as the savior of football was not well received, according to several of the founding clubs. It was the beginning of the end.
On Tuesday morning, there was already news that Manchester City and Chelsea were considering abandonment. The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had contacted the English clubs to warn them that he would put all possible obstacles, fiscal and organizational, on them. French President Emmanuel Macron also voiced his opposition. In turn, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, president of Bayern Munich, confirmed that his club would not participate. In addition, he pointed out against Pérez’s apocalyptic message about the need to create the Super League to avoid the collapse of the industry: “I do not believe that the Super League is going to solve the economic problems due to the coronavirus. Rather, all clubs in Europe should work in solidarity to ensure that the cost structure, especially the salaries of the players and the fees of the advisers, is adjusted to the income so that all European football is more rational.
Rummenigge’s volley was final. Also the statements of Pep Guardiola, Manchester City coach: “This is not sport.” And from Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp: “The owners make decisions without asking.” Those words, added to the demonstrations of the English fans, precipitated the failure. The image of Petr Cech, former Chelsea goalkeeper, now an employee of the club, getting off the bus to talk to fans who were blocking access to Stamford Bridge was the iconic image of the collapse.
That same Tuesday afternoon, Miguel Ángel Gil attended Atlético’s training session to explain to the players and Simeone the steps he had taken and already expressed the doubts he had about the project having a future. Gil already knew that City and Chelsea were leading the en bloc rout of the English. Not even the admission of the precautionary measures or the compensatory clauses for not respecting the contract stopped the trickle that occurred on Wednesday after the flight of the English. Only Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Milan have not openly renounced being part of it.
On Wednesday, in an interview on Cadena Ser, Florentino Pérez accused City, without naming him, of having led the boycott. In the last hours, some of the founders have also doubted the possibility of PSG helping UEFA with information to deactivate the argument they had prepared. When the American owners of Liverpool and Manchester United landed in Europe, they were surprised that a significant part of the business generated by their investments and their footballers ended up in the coffers of UEFA and FIFA. Their opinion surveys also identified that they had highly questionable reputations peppered with corruption. But before they could begin to speak, UEFA had already acted. The battle was lost.