'European Super League' or new-look Champions League -- what does the future hold?

Paris (AFP) –


The spectre of a European Super League looms seemingly larger than ever after the remarkable claims made by outgoing Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, but any current manoeuvres could simply all be part of attempts to put pressure on UEFA with a revamp of the Champions League set for 2024.

Bartomeu resigned as Barcelona president on Tuesday but one of his last acts was to reveal he had accepted a proposal to play in "a future European Super League".

That came just a week after Sky in the UK reported negotiations were nearing conclusion for the creation of a "European Premier League" of 18 clubs, backed by $6 billion of financing from major banks.

There has been talk for years of a breakaway competition, with a closed set-up similar to the model of American major leagues, and even before events of the last week it felt like a seismic change in European football was coming.

The prospect of regular games between the likes of Juventus and Barcelona -- who meet in the Champions League on Wednesday -- or Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United will appeal to many.

However, there is such widespread opposition to any Super League project that, in the words of one source, "it will create a civil war within football".

In any case, it is worth questioning why Bartomeu dropped his bombshell precisely when he did, as he quit in the wake of an ugly falling-out with Lionel Messi and with Barcelona in crisis.

"It's the comments of a jilted lover," Kieran Maguire, football finance lecturer at the University of Liverpool, told AFP. "He wanted to go out with a bang and he certainly achieved that."

- 'Non-negotiable' -

Those opposed to the idea insist it would become dull. Clubs used to winning their national titles and then meeting in the latter stages of the Champions League might end up languishing in mid-table in a Super League.

"Any Super League of 10, 12, 24 clubs will become boring," UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told AFP in August.

"In a 20-team league, come February somebody in this league of stars will have to be 10th, somebody will have to be 15th," Javier Tebas, president of Spain's La Liga, told AFP last week. "The people with these ideas are dreamers."

UEFA's position could not be clearer, and European football's governing body on Wednesday reaffirmed its belief that no breakaway competition can rival the Champions League.

"The principles of solidarity, promotion, relegation and open leagues are non-negotiable," UEFA stated.

"That is what makes European football work and makes the Champions League the best sporting competition in the world."

- FIFA focus on Club World Cup -

Meanwhile FIFA president Gianni Infantino is focused on his plans for an expanded, 24-team Club World Cup.

The competition was due to take place for the first time next year but was put back to a later date after Euro 2020 and the Copa America were postponed to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"What matters to me is not Bayern against Liverpool, but Bayern against Boca Juniors," Infantino told Swiss newspaper Aargauer Zeitung last week.

There is also the possibility not all leading clubs would necessarily want to be involved in a Super League.

"For over 10 years we have been hearing speculation about the Super League. However, the main function of the world of football is on the development of existing international competitions," said AC Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis on Wednesday.

And so it comes back to the prospect of a revamped Champions League that may well be like a Super League in all but name.

Existing broadcast agreements expire in 2024, and the threat of a breakaway may help the biggest clubs get more of what they want -- money, guaranteed access, games -- from UEFA.

"The big clubs want a closed shop in terms of guaranteed participation, but UEFA prefers a merit-based approach based on winning football games rather than wealth," said Maguire.

In reality only a handful of elite clubs can aspire to win the Champions League in its current format, but at least the rest can still dream.

"That's the fairytale we love, to follow that it's actually possible for a team like Midtjylland... to go and play on the biggest stage," Rasmus Ankersen, chairman of the Danish champions who are in this season's Champions League, told The Independent.