The move by 12 of Europe’s top clubs to launch a Super League on Sunday has kicked off what is likely to be a bitter struggle for control of the game but the idea of a breakaway competition has been bubbling away for more than 20 years.
In 1998, Milan-based sports marketing group Media Partners held talks with leading clubs, including AC Milan and Manchester United, seeking to build support for a breakaway league.
Fifa threatened national associations, clubs and players with suspensions.
Uefa finally killed off the plan by expanding the Champions League, offering clubs a greater slice of TV and sponsorship revenue, and upping prize money.
The idea resurfaced in 2009 as Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez, who had returned for a second stint as president, criticised Uefa’s handling of the Champions League.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said at the time that the Super League could become a reality in 10 years. “I’m not sure 100 per cent that I’m right but I feel inside our game there are some voices behind the scenes coming up to do something about that, especially if the rules become too restrictive for these clubs,” he had said.
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The Premier League’s Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have announced plans to join the competition along with Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus. It is anticipated three more clubs will join the breakaway group as founding members of the new midweek tournament, which organisers said would begin “as soon as practicable”.
The league will have 20 teams, with 15 founding members to be joined by five clubs who qualify annually based on their domestic achievements. The 20 teams would be split into the two groups of 10, with each side in a group playing each other home and away in midweek fixtures. The top three clubs from each group would progress for the quarter finals, with the final two spot earned after a play-off between the teams finishing fourth and fifth in their groups. From quarter-final stage onwards there would be a two-legged knockout ties home and away — similar to the current knockout stages of the Champions League — with a single fixture final at a neutral venue.
One of the biggest points of criticism around the proposal is that only five clubs in the 20-strong competition would enter based on “sporting achievements”. The 15 founding members would have their participation guaranteed.
US investment bank JP Morgan confirmed on Monday that it is financing the new league. The breakaway clubs said the founding members would share $4.19 billion “solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”.