LONDON – The deceptions, distrust and divisions in European soccer erupted in public on Monday between teams and even within the clubs breaking away to form a Super League that could leave them and their players outcasts in the global game.
Condemnation of the 12 rebels clubs from England, Spain and Italy even came from Prince William, who followed the British government in railing against moves to split from longstanding structures to play in a largely closed competition rather than Europe's existing UEFA-run Champions League.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin turned on club leaders he called “snakes” and “liars,” singling out Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli and Manchester United vice chairman Ed Woodward for betraying him by reneging on a pledge to stick within existing structures.
Ceferin threatened players from the Super League clubs with being banned from the European Championship and next year’s World Cup.
“They will not be able to represent their national teams at any matches,” Ceferin warned earlier. “UEFA and the footballing world stand united against the disgraceful self-serving proposal we have seen in the last 24 hours from a select few clubs in Europe that are fueled purely by greed above all else.”
Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez, the founding chairman of the Super League, downplayed UEFA’s threat to ban players.
The players “can be assured that this won’t happen,” Pérez said in a late-night Spanish television interview. “It’s not going to happen. We won’t get into the legal aspects of it, but it won’t happen. It’s impossible.”
The strident rhetoric from Ceferin was followed on Monday by criticism of the Super League even by Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, despite Liverpool's owner John Henry securing the six-time European champion's participation in the new competition.
“I don’t think it’s a great idea,” he said after Liverpool was held by Leeds to 1-1. It's a result that puts Liverpool two points from the four Champions League qualification places, showing just why Henry would want the team in a Super League where the spot is locked in.
Three of the 12 rebel clubs — Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid — are scheduled to play in the Champions League semifinals next week. Two more, Manchester United and Arsenal, are in the Europa League semifinals. Ceferin said he wants to boot them out as “as soon as possible” from UEFA competitions, but that will require “legal assessments” that will begin Tuesday.
Pérez said the new competition is being created to “save soccer” and complained of a campaign to make the Super League look bad by those who would “lose their privileges.”
“We have to explain to everyone that this is not a league for the rich clubs,” Pérez said in an interview broadcast early Tuesday on the Spanish television program El Chiringuito de Jugones. “It’s a league to save all the clubs. Otherwise, soccer will die.”
He also said the new league likely won’t start next season if no deal is reached with European soccer’s governing body.
Ceferin led a meeting of UEFA's executive committee Monday only hours after the 12 clubs announced the Super League project that threatens to split the historic structure of European soccer. He received backing from the English Football Association President Prince William, the second-in-line to the British throne.
“Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire football community – from the top level to the grassroots – and the values of competition and fairness at its core,” he tweeted on the Kensington Palace account. “I share the concerns of fans about the proposed Super League and the damage it risks causing to the game we love.”
The 12 clubs planning to start the breakaway Super League have informed the leaders of FIFA and UEFA that they have begun legal action aimed at fending off threats to block their competition.
The letter was sent by the group to Ceferin and FIFA President Gianni Infantino saying the Super League has already been underwritten by funding of 4 billion euros ($5.5 billion) from American bank JPMorgan Chase.
Currently, teams have to qualify each year for the Champions League through their domestic leagues, but the Super League would lock in 15 places every season for the founding members. The seismic move to shake up the sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, who also run franchises in closed U.S. leagues — a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.
UEFA warned the Super League clubs, including Barcelona and Juventus, that legal action would be taken against them and said they also would be barred from existing domestic competitions such as the Spanish league and the Premier League.
“We are concerned that FIFA and UEFA may respond to this invitation letter by seeking to take punitive measures to exclude any participating club or player from their respective competitions,” the Super League clubs wrote to Infantino and Ceferin in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
“Your formal statement does, however, compel us to take protective steps to secure ourselves against such an adverse reaction, which would not only jeopardize the funding commitment under the grant but, significantly, would be unlawful. For this reason, SLCo (Super League Company) has filed a motion before the relevant courts in order to ensure the seamless establishment and operation of the competition in accordance with applicable laws.”
The courts were not named by the Super League, which intends to launch a 20-team competition with 15 founding members. Tottenham from England, Atletico Madrid from Spain, and AC Milan and Inter Milan from Italy are also among the 12 that have already signed.
The breakaway was launched just as UEFA thought it had agreement on an expansion of the Champions League from 2024. Now, the same officials who backed the plans have decided to go it alone while claiming the existing competitions could remain.
UEFA approved the new Champions League format proposal on Monday amid the turmoil.
The agreement was negotiated with the 246-member European Club Association. The ECA leader, Agnelli of Juventus, quit the UEFA executive committee overnight.
“He is probably the biggest disappointment of all," Ceferin said of Agnelli. “I have never seen a person that would lie so many times and so persistently as he did.
“Now I know who is who. Who is honest. Who loves football.”
In their letter to the FIFA and UEFA presidents, the Super League clubs said their competition could also play alongside domestic leagues and cups.
“We do not seek to replace the UEFA’s Champions League or the Europa League," they said, "but to compete with and exist alongside those tournaments.”
Harris reported from London.
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